Recovery underway after tornado devastates Old Hickory Dam area

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — An extensive recovery is underway to restore communications and rebuild after the deadly December tornado outbreak damaged the area surrounding the Old Hickory Dam.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District officials reported as the tornado passed over the area on Dec. 9, 2023, it damaged the exterior of the hydropower plant, tore the roof off the Electronic Service Section Building on the shoreline of Old Hickory Lake and then demolished several picnic shelters and uprooted a slew of hardwood trees at Rockland Recreation Area, according to a release.

Rockland Recreation Area to remain closed for next several months after tornado

“Approximately 80% of the area took a direct hit and 50% or more of its trees are on the ground,” said Dylon Anderson, Old Hickory Lake resource manager. “Two shelters are a complete loss, and another large shelter is severely damaged. Network and electrical outages are still ongoing as well.”

  • Old Hickory Dam tornado damage
    This is an aerial view taken Dec. 10, 2023, of the damage sustained to the Electronic Service Section Building when a tornado struck the area the day before on the shoreline of Old Hickory Lake in Hendersonville, Tennessee. (Courtesy: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Nashville District)
  • Old Hickory Dam tornado damage
    This is an aerial view taken Dec. 10, 2023, of the damage sustained to the Old Hickory Hydropower Plant when a tornado struck the area the day before on the shoreline of Old Hickory Lake in Hendersonville, Tennessee. (Courtesy: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Nashville District)
  • Old Hickory Dam tornado damage
    This is an aerial view taken Dec. 10, 2023, of the damage sustained to Rockland Recreation Area when a tornado struck the area the day before on the shoreline of Old Hickory Lake in Hendersonville, Tennessee. (Courtesy: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Nashville District)
  • Old Hickory Dam tornado damage
  • Old Hickory Dam tornado damage
  • Old Hickory Dam tornado damage
  • Old Hickory Dam tornado damage
  • Old Hickory Dam tornado damage
    Dan Putnam, equipment mechanic, prepares to lay down fiber cable Jan. 22, 2024, near Old Hickory Dam to restore communications after a tornado struck the area Dec. 9, 2023, which caused a communication outage. (Courtesy: John Poston via U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Nashville District)

Power Plant Road and the Rockland Recreation Area on the shoreline of Old Hickory Lake will remain closed to the public due to the extent of damage and devastation. The nature trail and tailwater access area also took a direct hit, which caused damage to signage, the boardwalk and portions of asphalt.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District officials believe it will likely be months before the area can safely reopen. Their team is working on a plan to hopefully reopen the boat ramp by late February or early March, but the rest of the damage will take longer to fund and contract for necessary clearing and rebuilding

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There are typically five operators, five electricians, five mechanics, two maintenance workers, one administrative assistant and the superintendent who work together to generate hydropower to the local region. Luckily, only Will Garner, powerplant operator, was in the facility when the tornado hit and he was uninjured.

Shortly after the storm passed, crews worked together to stand down the power production to further assess the switchyard and regain a connection to the electrical grid working with the Tennessee Valley Authority, according to a release.

The powerplant suffered damage to the lobby, hydropower classroom and instructor office and smaller locations at the dam. All of the government vehicles were also damaged.

The tornado affected communications at the dam, lock operations center and nearby visitor’s center, so restoring this capability remains a top priority.

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The Nashville District has requested supplemental funding to initially identify all recovery tasks and to build a comprehensive list of damages and cost estimates to support contracts for debris removal and repair or replacement of the facilities affected by the tornado.

The recovery will require numerous contracts that exceed the district’s routine operating budget.

The December 9th EF-2 tornado moved through Madison and across Old Hickory Lake and the Cumberland River into Hendersonville and then Gallatin.

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