By BRIAN FERRY
About 100 public safety officials from the western part of the state visited Kinzua Dam and the FirstEnergy generating station at its base on Wednesday.
The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) held its Western Region Quarterly Training in Warren for the first time.
The training sessions are usually classroom-style experiences, according to Warren County Public Safety administrative assistant Wanda Smith, so the chance to get out and tour the flood-control facility and the attached plant was a bonus for the participants.
A total of 107 officials signed up for the training. The day kicked off with discussions at the Holiday Inn, including a case review on the Rainbow Gathering last summer.
From there, the officials-turned-students boarded two buses and took a ride up to the dam. One bus went to the FirstEnergy plant first for a tour of that facility, while the other took its passengers to Kinzua Dam.
Because of the heightened security level declared by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials, the group could not tour any more of the dam than any other visitor. However, Park Ranger Steve Lauser talked with the group about the history of the dam and showed them some of the major external features of the structure.
Officials asked questions about the flood- and drought-control capabilities of the dam, as well as some of its emergency measures - like the emergency spillway that can be activated if the water level threatens to crest the earthen embankment on the north end of the dam.
"This affects a lot of western Pennsylvania - from here to Pittsburgh and beyond," Warren County Public Safety Director Todd Lake said.
Inside the power plant, each group was split again with tours led by FirstEnergy Consultant Ron Kovach and Mechanical Engineer Diana Blank.
The tours included close-up looks at the 114-inch diameter ball-valve plugs that had been removed from their valves for refurbishing and walks past the two 114-inch tubes that carry water from the upper reservoir to the turbines during peak hours. A third turbine, fed by a 48-inch pipe, is also being worked on, according to Kovach.
Each of the large turbines can go from generating no power to maximum output of more than 200 megawatts in a few minutes, he said. That's much faster than fired power plants.
The third turbine generates 30 megawatts of power, Kovach said.
The half-mile diameter, 2 billion gallon upper reservoir drops water to the turbines through a 21-foot wide tube to generate power during peak demand hours. Water is pumped back up to the reservoir when demand is low.
Lauser explained that the upper reservoir was built so that, in the event of a catastrophic failure, its water would go behind the dam. If a full 2 billion gallons were added to the Allegheny Reservoir at bank-full conditions, the water level in the 12,000-acre lake would rise two inches, he said.
The dam-themed training continues Thursday, Lake said.
Some of the emergency action plans discussed will include smaller dams like the one at Chapman State Park and the removal of dams like the one taken out of the Conewango Creek.
PEMA Director Glenn Cannon will also speak on Thursday.