The chief geologist for the Utah Division of Water Resources during construction of the Quail Creek Reservoir and dike has told an investigative panel that his concerns about the project were ignored.
S. Bryce Montgomery, who resigned from the division on Aug. 4, 1984, as construction was still under way, said some of his recommendations were not passed on to the contractors, but he did not know why.The earthen Quail Creek Dike gave way early New Year's Day, sending a wall of water down the Virgin River that flooded farmland and dozens of homes, causing an estimated $12 million damage. Gov. Norm Bangerter declared Washington County a disaster area within days of the incident, and President Bush made a similar declaration last week.
Montgomery and several others were asked to testify before an independent panel of engineers and geologists appointed by Bangerter to determine the cause of the breach and whether the dike could be rebuilt at the same site.
The panel left St. George three weeks ago to study data gathered during a visit to the dam site in January. Upon returning, panel chairman Robert James, of Fort Worth, Texas, said the group had "several major concerns over the construction of the dike," but he declined to elaborate.
Montgomery testified Monday that he was opposed to plans to make the dike's cutoff trench, a type of underground spillway, 10 feet in length.
"I felt the cutoff trench and the dike should have been excavated deeper and the foundation should have been grouted in its full reach, not just in its left abutment," he said.
Despite his suggestions, he said, the decision was made to make the trench 10 feet long.
Other recommendations did not go beyond his superiors at the division, including the assistant director at the time, Larry Anderson, now director of the division.
"From my own position of responsibility, I tried to reserve and determine problems and concerns and potential solutions to the best that I knew how and passed those on to the assistant director of water resources. What they did with them, you'll have to ask them," he said.
Montgomery said he saw "obvious problems down the road because the nature of the foundation of materials would need secondary grouting as time went on and the structure was used."
Now a private consulting geologist, Montgomery said he inspected the structure numerous times before he resigned.
Asked if he felt the dike could be reconstructed at the same site with proper grouting and an improved cutoff trench, Montgomery replied, "Yes, I believe so."
James said the investigative panel decided to return to St. George this week to hear specific testimony and also to reinspect the dike site. The panel was scheduled to hear later from Gerald Stoker, an employee of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, who witnessed the dike collapse and took photographs.
James said panel members were to tour the site again Tuesday and then hold several closed sessions to deliberate on possible causes. He said the committee hoped to have a written report in Bangerter's hands by March 1.