The Redevelopment of a Small Industrial-Based city in the midwest

For the past two years I have been undertaking an effort to redevelop a small city in the midwest, Salem, Ohio. The effort was driven by the decline of the city both fiscally and the loss of significant architecture and business, particularly retail, in the downtown district.

Salem is a small city of twelve thousand residents. The city is located about midway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. It has significant architectural value with 1900 era buildings and has a rich history which includes the Underground Railroad and Women’s suffrage movements. John F. Kennedy spoke in Salem during his campaign in 1960. In 1850 the second Womens rights convention was held in Salem. Many of the structures are directly associated with these historical events. I like to call Salem the “Forest Gump” of cities, because of its inadvertent touches with history.

The negative issues that this city faces:

With the loss of the industrial base of the Industrial Revolution, there was a significant decline in employment and quality of employment during the period of 1950 to the present. The city declined from financial prominence to a polarity of wealth with a small percentage of the populous controlling a large segment of wealth. Employment within the immediate area of the city offered only $ 44,000 income per annum per family. Exacerbating this polarity was the declining industrial base rewarding those who refused active investment and chose passive investment.

The result of the aforementioned issues is a community of wealth and poverty. Because of the need for the good people of this area to show compassion, there have been many non-profits and well-meaning organizations and individuals who have offered assistance in the form of food, clothing, money, and shelter. The result has been to create a haven for the needy. Reviewing newspaper articles shows the city soliciting low-income housing as early as the 1960’s. The result is, of course, an imbalance of those taking services and those participating in the support of those services.

These mis-actions by the local government have created the current issues that the community must overcome. These issues are the inequity of income, the general low income of the middle class, and the imbalance of the distribution of wealth in the population. Results of this are an increase of drug use and an increase in crime.

Reality of fiscal local politics are that the current income, resulting from a 1% income tax has declined from a gross income of 1.3 million per annum to a a current level of three hundred fifty thousand per annum in the past couple of decades. The response to this spiral of failure has been to curtail spending and the offering of services. This has, of course, created a lessening of the income driving the services, etc.

Further amplifying the negative aspects of this failure, like parasites on a sickened animal, are the corrupt, who flock to any significant source of income. In a challenged environment, such as this, their interference is significant in the evolution of the declining fiscal environment.

Positive attributes of Salem, Ohio:

The people of this area are unique. They are strong, hard-working, good people with a strong work ethic. They are loyal and reliable. They are very special as a people and as a workforce. Many middle-class families enjoy one of both parents employed in two or three jobs to offset the meager incomes provided by the current environment.

The aforementioned issues have resulted in a deficit of opportunities for the people of this city and surrounding areas. Also, it has created a magnificent opportunity for the correct employer. Salem and surrounding areas have a strong, willing, and hard-working workforce. Unemployment and underemployment have produced a dormant workforce that is immediately available. Midwestern values, patriotism, honor, dedication, and loyalty are the hallmark of the people of this area.

The cost of living is necessarily low. A fine home can be purchased for under one hundred thousand dollars. A magnificent home can be purchased for two hundred fifty thousand. DInner costs from seven to twenty dollars in a medium grade restaurant. An executive making one hundred thousand dollars per annum can live like a king in this area.

The city of Salem is architecturally and societally beautiful. Tree-lined streets connect this completely walkable city. The image is accurately that of a Norman Rockwell painting. The beauty of the area, the vegetation, the finely groomed lawns and plantings, and the finish of the city itself is magnificent. The community is one of welcoming openness and accepting.

Personal safety is great and crime is not significant. There are drug issues, but they are small and are being immediately addressed and overcome.

The work required to make the needed repairs:

A Technical Advisory Committee was formed and one hundred forty participants addressed the downtown, (the most significant issue from an income perspective). They made recommendations in a seventy page report, which I authored, suggesting the needed ratios of occupancies, green space, and parking. They suggested altered traffic patterns to increase flow of traffic through the city. They addressed the maintenance of the building inventory and supplied the existing methodologies, through the law to address these issues. Repairs of the issues of the downtown will eventually result in an increase of the downtown tax base of 500%

Salem needs to address the insufficient income of the middle class. This will be accomplished by drawing sophisticated industries to this beautiful city and to employ the capable workforce to its potential. The redevelopment of the downtown is a necessary predecessor of the industrial development effort.

Finally, the issue of corruption must be addressed. I have addressed this by regulatory effort. New procurement regulations are being considered and changes to ordinances are being made to assure open honest procurement. Other efforts are underway to stop unfair practices. This is not a punitive effort, it is one of recognition and repair of the things that have been allowed to exist which are detrimental to the city as a whole.

It has now been almost two years since the results of the TAC have been made public. We have enjoyed significant success and, of course, we have suffered substantial resistance to the recommended change. Statistics prove success of the evolution to date, but we are not beyond the tipping point that we once faced as a city. I believe that over the coming three years we will have positive results with the lagging indicators of family income and individual income. Currently commercial and residential real estate have turned a corner and are appreciating significantly. It is now dependent on efforts of revitalization and industrial development to cement the improvements achieved.


Scott Cahill

Fixing the failing infrastructure of a forgotten nation

For a very long time The United States of America has put the welfare of other nations before our own. We now have a new leader. At last, perhaps, we will address the failed and failing infrastructure of America.

Bridges, Dams, water, waste, and power utilities churn along without repair and without upgrade in the U.S., while all around the world, other nations leap ahead.

Our airports are embarrassing especially when compared with the United Arab Emirates, Dubai, Japan, even China. Men once landed on our shores and wrote home to Italy, Ireland, eastern Europe and, indeed the entirety of the world. They spoke of untold wealth, of streets “paved with gold” Now, we are flirting with “third world” status.

We teeter on the edge of bankruptcy and we teeter on the edge of catastrophe.

Many of our country’s dams have outlived their design lives. Development has occurred within their inundation zones, creating a likelihood of significant loss of life and property. Bridges are rotting away in our great cities. Waste and water systems are noncompliant with the simplest of requirements and present a real danger to the consumer. Our Power grid is out of balance and falling ever deeper into a state of disrepair. Even our nuclear arsenal is archaic. While Russia rebuilds their missile systems, ours rely of software loaded from a 5 1/2″ floppy disk.

I could write a thick book describing how the greatest nation on this earth was allowed to get to this point, with a ten trillion dollar infrastructure need, twenty two trillion dollar debt, and a sea of fools writing checks to anyone who wants them in some vain attempt to purchase friendship, diplomacy, if you prefer. With every issue that arises, another governmental organization is put in place to slow commerce with poorly drafted regulation.

Failure has momentum. It is hard to stop, and more difficult to turn around. Ours is certainly such. We (the people who we entrusted with this great nation) failed horribly to recognize that one (person or nation) can help others only if their own house is in order. Our is not.

The people of the United States have spoken at the ballot box. They have screamed to a government out of control. They have demanded that these issues be addressed.

President Trump is deeply burdened by the huge shortfall of maintenance of our infrastructure. The debt is sufficient a problem to remedy, the cost of repairs and upgrades to infrastructure simply complicates an already difficult evolution.

Fate and the will of the people have afforded us one last opportunity. Let us set aside petty difference and personal pride. Let us rebuild this great nation and make her solvent and strong, so that her torch may light the way for the world, once again.

Scott Cahill

An open Letter to President Trump and Vice President Pence about our Infrastructure

America, “God shed his grace on thee”. Indeed it is so. We are one of only a few governments in this world which holds, within its borders, the wealth of raw materials to sustain our people. This is a magnificent and important concept. It saved the world during the great world wars and it has reached around the globe and elevated the level of prosperity of all mankind.

For reasons that sometimes escape the writer, we have long set aside our elemental needs as a nation, to focus, instead on those of others. We pay their way into the United Nations. We offer money for friendship in the guise of diplomacy. Over and over, we enter countries, mess with them, then rebuild their entire infrastructure. Lately we have not even pretended to require retribution for our efforts. We are seen as a sea of money to the world, as patsies.

There are reasons for spending money to improve the lot of others. It may be simply the right thing to do such as the clean water effort in Africa. Money may, I suppose, be an elemental part of diplomacy, yet, since Jefferson and the Barbary Pirates, it has failed time and time again. It usually does, and it usually will. People resent such gifts.

Since early in the 1900’s we have ignored major elements of our infrastructure, incorporating and expanding systems without significant repair or rebuild. Always, there was a more immediate need, a more important cost. Now, we are at a critical state and have outgrown many of these systems. We must address our ancient and failing infrastructure.


We have a horrifying situation in the United States, which presents a clear and present danger to the public and to our nation. In northern Virginia alone, thousands of lives would be lost with the failure of a single high-hazard dam, airports, schools, parks, and thousands of homes, washed away without a trace in moments. There are about four thousand dams in Virginia alone, with a similar number in each, North and South Carolina. The hazards that they produce to the public are similar. Most of these structures fail to meet current standards for safety. Each state has thousands of dams of varying size and liability, dependent on the relief and impoundment of the particular dam and the development of the inundation zone beneath. Dams probably produce the largest public safety liability in the U.S. because of the number of deaths and the depth of losses that they can produce.


Our bridges are in disrepair. They, like our dams, were build during the industrial revolution, and are reaching the ends of their design lives. Most can be saved with a cost of a fraction of the cost of replacement – but only if we act to make these repairs. If they are allowed to fail, the cost of the new bridge that replace these many historically and architecturally significant structures will be ten fold, perhaps a hundred.


We have allowed our cities to become dependent on support that has become strained, tenuous, and ancient. We are dependent on electrical distribution and truck traffic at street level.

You, Mr. President, know New York City as well as anyone. Imagine what the grand city would look like in only a week without power and surface transportation. A singular seismic event could easily bring such a calamity. We must plan cities systems, and repair and rebuild.

We must have power backup segregated from the threats of internet connections. I am aware of the great planning that has taken place in cities such as New York, but we both know what threats exist, and the realities of their realization on the lives of so many, and the very character of our nation.

Many of our cities have water lines that are near or even exceeding 100 years of service. Sanitary sewers sometimes communicate with storm sewers, overwhelming treatment in times of high levels of rain. All is a weak point in a seismic event. All would produce an untenable situation in an urban environment.


All who travel internationally understand our grand failure, as a nation in public transportation. When the words “public transportation” are used, it instills in the reader a vision of filth, graffiti, and concern for one’s personal safety. Europe and Asia have lead to show us that it may not be so.

We must develop and construct fast rail and other methods of transportation that are safe, clean, fast, and that will cater to business people. Many opportunities present themselves to us, to develop a web of fast transport within cities and from urban area to urban area, with convenience and safety. Autonomous vehicles are coming, electrical vehicles are becoming viable.


This failure of traffic and transportation systems, in cities like New York, Washington, D.C., and L.A. cost untold millions of dollars daily. These losses are only realized in an aggregate degradation of corporate profitability. They are difficult to quantify, but they are real and they are great. Roadways and proper conveyance of people and materials within and without urban environments must be deeply considered with plans that project out for decades.


The high-tension electrical grid, an ever-increasing spider web of wire carrying current up to primary transmission at 765,000 Volts AC across this great nation. It is obvious and it is easy. A fool with a slingshot and a piece of wire can cause an elemental failure. A small squad of organized terrorists could bring the whole down in an extended area. Cyber attack is the biggest threat because it does not even require physical action.

Each generation point must be brought up, on phase, to contribute to the whole, and a significant off-phase contributor, with safety jumped out, could destroy large parts of the whole. Over powering, over-speed, and off-phasing can be done by a teenager with a laptop in Kansas or China. Many valid safeties are in place, but, again, the introduction of internet, intentional or unintentional, can allow a back door to a hacker with malice of intent.

The next great military attack against the United States will be preceded by a cyber attack of grand proportion.

Our electrical transmission must be protected physically, and by back-feed. Lines must be isolated and monitored and in certain areas must be buried in vaults and hardened.


The internet with its ever-evolving web of wire, satellite, and radio transmission, presents an attractive target to many who seek to damage us. I will not discuss, here, the significant efforts and success of the DOD and others to develop isolated threads that successfully (we hope) segregate the communications in battle and calamity. I believe that it may be prudent to address the need for intercommunication of electrical, internet, and other communications, and consider cost/value of the initiation of a secondary web insulated and isolated for only such communications and controls of elements of our infrastructure.


Water and transmission of water is an evolving issue of great importance. It is the greatest challenge of the coming few decades. Our water presents a significant and attractive target for terror. The lack of sufficient water, particularly in the southwest, requires that the systems of retention and transmission of this resource be considered and protected tenaciously. Consideration must be made for the eventual transmission of water, as a resource from areas of plenty to areas of need within our nation. Water quality, particularly regarding nitrogen loading, needs to be better addressed and managed. These nitrates, which pollute and damage water quality, produce algae blooms, and toxins, are the very thing needed in the farmlands to reconstitute the fertile soils of our nations. Besides the loss of quality of surface water, these lost nitrates are stripping our farmland of its fertility. We must consider methods to re-distribute waste and nitrogen rich concentrations back to the soil.


The current computer systems of the FAA are old and slow. In spite of the liabilities, air travel and air traffic control have continued to be safe and well managed. Many of our major airports have difficult and congested approaches (such as Newark N.J.) that make flying them a challenge. The airports, such as LaGuardia, are dirty, old, and indicative of a nation that is on the verge of failure. Flying into Dubai from LaGuardia – what is your impression of the two nations? The FAA has done much with little for a long time. Much more must be done. With DGPS and the approaches that they allow, we can adopt more easily-flown approaches and safer airports. Aircraft become much more simple for the pilot work load, allowing for increased vigilance. We must not lose rural airports, we must build modern and safe in-city and near city airports. We must make our airports clean and beautiful. The world sees us through our airports first. We must make them a welcoming experience, and maintain safety and efficient movement of passengers and corporate aircraft.


Canals were an integral part of the building of our great nation. Few Presidents had an administration where a canal was not constructed, widened, locked, or expanded. It has been a part of our history – a forgotten part. Our intercoastal waterway is silted in and nearly impassible. The canals lie forgotten – a historical footnote of a time gone by.

No method of conveyance of goods, not truck, not train, not plane, can begin to meet the economy of transpiration of diverse dry bulk goods by water. We must reconsider our waterways, locks, and canals, maintain and upgrade, and make them viable again. With the United States again producing goods, and consuming goods from around the globe, our waterways will, again, act as a cost-effective conveyance of these materials to and from the markets of the world.

Much of the land of our great nation is touched by navigable waterways, canals, lakes, and our great rivers. We must, again commit to the maintenance of these corridors of trade. The United States of America has approximately 40,230 Km of waterways. Of these, 19,310 are inland waterways, and 20,920 are coastal waterways. Heavy bulk materials are best suited to this kind of transport.

Cost is significantly less than other methods of transport for cost per ton of goods per Kilometer transited they are; Road @ $310. Rail @ $29. Air transport @ $1,107.. and waterway @ $10. Only a pipeline can convey liquids more efficiently at $9. (ref. ILS2016 6th Int. Conference)

I imagine a system evolving where containers are loaded off from cargo ships onto small businesses’ canal barges and delivered to our many inland ports, returning with manufactured goods to be shipped out to the world.


The cost of needed upgrades of infrastructure are great. They are easily escalated through special interest involvement like the engineering lobby. The smell of money brings the great interest of those who would take advantage. If we are to be cost effective in the completion of these projects it shall require:

  1. Careful cost/benefit analysis – this includes the consideration of both cost and human suffering that the associated liability of a particular element poses. As important, perhaps, as the element of public safety is the value of the repairs to our infrastructure. It is prudent and honorable to do a cost analysis of these works to produce a real and accountable return on investment for the costs expended. It is true that some are a cost expended against the possibility of a conceptual event. It is nonetheless reasonable to apply cost and probability of such event and to incorporate that into the evaluation of the expenditure.
  2. Reasonable and considered engineering – There is a place for art and beauty in architecture. Beauty and grand engineering need not come into being by abandoning fiscal responsibility. If we are to address these problems in the environment that we now enjoy, we must look at every dollar spent and every consideration for producing maximum return for each dollar so expended.
  3. Honorable and accountable procurement – Each dollar spent is a dollar that is not available for the many other important and previously neglected parts of our budget. (not to mention debt service) These costs must be watched by men who are giving to future generations. This work needs not to be a large contract awarded to some huge company who did “a favor”. This needs to be an organized and proper procurement overseen by men who submit themselves to scrutiny regularly, to forestall any sense of corruption. With the responsible procurement, by many small projects across the nation, the secondary effect of job creation and economic stimulus will be accentuated and immediate.

So much is, at last, being considered. So much is improving. I am happy and excited to share in the conversation, to be a part of America’s renewal. There is much to be done. Let us not digress to the failed evolution of the past, and move forward toward a better tomorrow, to build a clean, safe, efficient infrastructure to support the greatest nation on this earth to move forward, again, as the leader of mankind.

Scott Cahill

The Oroville Dam Failure

As I write the Oroville dam in California is eroding back toward a breach of the reservoir. I am a dam contractor. If you ever heard someone say “that dam contractor..” they may have been talking about me.

I have repaired hundreds of dams including ones like Oroville, which were in the process of failure. I know a lot about dams.

The spillway failure is a common type of failure, where phreatic, or surface water entered the spillway, migrating beneath the slabs. (A static element on a dynamic element, A hard element on a live element). The dam is hydrated and dehydrated as water levels rise and fall, moving, as soils swell from pressures and water mass. In times of high rain the phreatic surface (hydrated soils line) moves toward the surface, venting into the void so produced.

This creates a void. Moving water over the years has eroded soils from beneath the slab downstream and left a channel. Now, the spillway has been actuated in a high-flow event and the plates of the spillway have failed into the stream, scouring from beneath them. They will continue to fail as the water continues to flow. The hydraulic jump exacerbates this erosion.

If the flow continues for a long enough time, with sufficient velocity, the reservoir will be voided by the migration of the erosion to the pool (cut-back). I cannot tell if failure is imminent, from Ohio, but it is an unacceptable situation that has been allowed to develop. It is a case of pennies pinched producing dollars spent, perhaps tragedy.

What we can learn as a nation is the information that is being disseminated. Words chosen carefully, to not excite, to not scare. The issue, as it now stands is serious, life-threatening even. The officials, the owners reps, the media will tell us now, that there is nothing to be be frightened about – all under control (remember Katrina??).

We have, for so long, ignored the failing infrastructure of this great nation, Let us hope that a fatal failure is not necessary to get us to act. Past experience does not make me hopeful of that.

Oroville is 770′ high, 6,920′ long. It is one of the 20 largest dams in the world. If Oroville breaks, The city will be flooded.

Eight thousand three hundred and seventy five residents are at risk within the inundation zone. Two hundred thirty critical facilities in the city of Oroville are within the inundation zone, including; Eleven schools, twenty one day care and children service centers, fourteen elder care facilities, twenty six bridges will be lost, the airport, two fire stations, the government administration building, three law enforcement stations, the EMERGENCY OPERATIONS CENTER (brilliant) Two waste water treatment plants, the jail, and the Hospital. (from the City of Oroville local hazard mitigation plan update May, 2013)

We are not talking about a river rising, where people have time to evacuate. We are talking about a wall of debris, mud, and water taking out a city, buildings, roads, bridges, life, in a horrible instant.

When will we, at last mandate proper maintenance and inspection of these high hazard and medium hazard dams? Why are we willing to suffer a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars to save a couple of dollars on proper and responsible dam safety and repairs?

Whatever you may hear, this is a significant event which could be horrible in its scope and its magnitude. Let us pray that it does not breach, and let us hope that, at last people are sufficiently concerned to act.

Scott Cahill

Oroville Dam – our Father’s Legacy

It is a huge responsibility, the stewardship of a dam. It has always been so. It is true of dams and levies, of companies and governments. People want accountability and it is a just wish, and one that should be respected.

I have seen this evolution far too many times. When the dam is operating, and the people who live in its shadow want information, they are told that it is none of their business. When they question, they are told that they cannot understand the secrets of those who wear uniforms. When the worst happens, the responsible congregate into a bevy of professionals and bureaucrats, they form committees, insulating any individual from liability, and they placate the masses.

Gone are the days when one man stood forward to give an honest assessment. A panel gives information that has been scoured for admission, or liability-inducing phrases. They take turns talking. There is no apology, no acknowledgement of error. That would show legal weakness. There is no man stepping forward saying “the buck stops here” The buck moves from point to point, until you don’t even understand who’s buck it is. It is an effective methodology. There was a time, when the operator of such a dam would be in a jail, now, looking out through the bars at the gallows being built. The Code of Hamtarabi suggested selling the dam owner to satisfy the costs incurred downstream. (Oh for a simpler time!)

Today people have responsibility, but not actual responsibility, that is assumed by a “joint task force” They put on uniforms with badges and stars. They are, obviously important, unapproachable, perhaps. The responsibility is thus divided and sub-divided until, eventually, you can ignore a responsibility, suffer a failure, and nothing changes. No jobs are lost, no reputation harmed. Everyone moves on but for the people buried in the mud by the river. They do not move on.

I become concerned when engineers “watch”. Engineers are extremely good at watching. They bring in engineers of every discipline, they put on orange or bright yellow vests, they congregate and they watch. They watch the erosion of the primary spillway. They watch the erosion of the emergency spillway. They put up lights so they can see at night. They monitor the inflows, they monitor the outflows, they pontificate the weather patterns. They are so very thorough when the dam is near failure, what filled their days when it was dry? Were they not walking the spillway, sounding for voids, testing the integrity of the elements, grouting, removing the trees from the spillway?

They say things, too. They say that the dam is in no danger, the levies will hold. They say do not listen to those other people who tell you to be concerned. There is no chance of failure. They say that nothing failed. That things are working as they should work. Even that they are unaware of the good men who tried to make them take the steps that would have stopped this evolution of failure (which is not happening, before our eyes). They say the emergency spillway will not be needed, then that it is stable, then that it is about to fail. They say, as they refuse further questions, that they must now go and “protect the people”. It seems that the time for action is in the past. It seems that they had their opportunity to protect, a job that they were charged to do, and instead they watched. Now, again they are watching. We all are watching, old people sleeping in shelters, children, mothers and fathers sisters and brothers – watching.

It takes time. Time is precious and it takes so much of it to repair a dam. I imagine that those who wear yellow vests must reflect on time, time when we could have placed concrete, time when we could have grouted, time when we could have inspected.

There was time a while ago, too, when the moderate storm “Katrina” hit New Orleans. Then, too, men in yellow vests watched. They considered and did math, formed models, but so many died, and they watched in their yellow vests and their hardhats from the banks. They formed committees, they held press conferences. They explained that everything was under control. There is no need to panic. We will be right there to help.

After it was all over, the death, the destruction, the failure of every bureaucratic element of government, they stood, still, watching, monitoring, modeling. Soon the questions came “How could we abandon our brothers?” “How could we let them die?” “Where was the help, so readily promised?”

The committee came forward and they explained. They explained that the plan was flawlessly executed. No one could have foreseen such a storm. (a hurricane on the Gulf Coast). They explained how well they each did, congratulating themselves, and calling them out by name, for recognition. The people who struggled to make a living and who paid their salaries laid in cots in shelters, in squalor. They watched them on televisions. They hid, starving, in the heat of attics. They lie in the mud of the failed levies, their lives ended. There were no gallows, there were no courtrooms, there was no responsibility because there was no failure. It was an act of God. Who are you to question God?

Men built Oroville Dam, then turned their heads and moved on. Our fathers gave us this grand dam, our highways and bridges, our utilities and ports. It is no fault of them, what we have done, or failed to do. Now we have drafted a new reality, one where there is no fault, therefore no responsibility. We have these failures because our grand bureaucracies allow them. We no longer have men speaking out against injustice because of a responsibility to do so, nor quitting jobs because funding no longer allows them to do needed maintenance. The worker is unimportant. The whistleblower is a “conspiracy theorist”. All is tenuous and secret – when the worst happens, it is God’s will.

The great men who toiled on this magnificent structure are mostly gone now. Most have moved on as men are apt to do over time. They are lucky, for a builder is a proud man. A builder is honest, you see labor is a constituent of honor. It is best that they not see, that those old eyes not cry for our failures. They can rest in peace having left such a beautiful thing to humanity. It is good that they do not see how we insult them, how little their gift meant to us, that we turn our backs on it and ignore the blood and sweat and lives spent in this magnificent structure.

Now it is left to the lawyers and the accountants, men with clean nails, to figure out, to calculate the losses. There is no need for the sun-wrinkled men who once built monuments to tomorrow. For, tomorrow has come. It is not as they had seen it. Tomorrow is a place for men with cuff links and uniforms and slick talk, men who have not toiled, different men who have no value of work or workmanship, no respect for grand structures left by our fathers. They manufacture truths in rooms, carefully plotting the dissemination of information.

My father was a builder. Like the grand men who built Oroville Dam. He, too is gone. He too was honorable. I know his words, though he is no longer able to speak them. They live inside of me, telling me right from wrong. I wonder, these men with their vests, what words are harbored in their minds? Do they even understand such things. Perhaps I am a remnant of a different time. Perhaps, in many ways I am like the men who built Oroville. I would be proud to be thought of so. I would be proud to be remembered, too as a builder, a man who told truths, and stacked stones, changing the earth and the future of man.

Scott Cahill

Oroville – a failure of a once great nation

In considering the events at Oroville, it is easy to concentrate on the negative. There is so much negative to go around.

The Principal spillway, the normal method of shedding water from the reservoir, has failed from scour, the soils being discharged downstream by the high velocity water. The Principal spillway is a controlled spillway, with gates at the dam crest to “control” the flow of water down the concrete “sluiceway” to the stream below, in Oroville’s case the Feather River. In a normal discharge, the sluiceway would conduct the flow down the grade, discharging into a plunge pool. Concrete block-like elements may serve to break and confuse the flow, the plunge pool, then absorbing the remaining energy and the water moving downstream. Oroville’s principal spillway failed because the sluiceway was undermined by voids, which became “charged” by high-pressure water introduced from the discharge through the gates. The result was a failure of the components of the sluiceway, plate slabs, and training walls were washed into the stream below, impeding flow, and causing a backup of the pool below the dam.

The emergency spillway is an uncontrolled spillway. It will pass as much water as entered the reservoir across its weir and the water is then transmitted downstream. The emergency spillway at Oroville is unlined, composed of indigenous earth and rock. Abutting rock is assessed in construction of a dam to attempt to understand its erosion characteristics. Rock of abutments is often considered “weathered” Weathered rock is rock which has been exposed at the surface and has become fractured and less sound. Sound rock is called “High Recovery” rock. Soft and fractured rock is called “Low Recovery” rock. Low recovery rock is prone to erosion. As an example, granite which is not weathered (granite is resistive to weathering) is high recovery rock. If it has seams of sands, silts, or clays, even granite can be considered low recovery. Shale is a rock that weathers rapidly. Shale abutments are often subject to erosion with high flows across these soils (rock). It is acceptable for an emergency spillway to lose soils and to be damaged in a discharge. The emergency spillway is used in special cases where there are severe flows (flooding rains or a break of a reservoir upstream for instance). Oroville’s emergency spillway was an earthen spillway. It is a weathered bedrock outcropping. Upon actuation, because of the failure of the principal spillway, it became apparent that the emergency spillway’s underlying rock was erosive, causing severe cutback, which threatened the foundation of the ogee weir. Noting this rapid evolution of the cutback, the operators opened the gates again to the failing principal spillway.

The argument has been offered that the dam has not “failed” in comments on my other writings. The failure that I refer to is the failure of elements of the dam, and the principal and emergency spillways are clearly elements of the dam. A dam failure does not require the complete loss of pool. In fact, few dam failures result in a complete loss of pool. My title, perhaps sensational, is accurate in describing the failure of these elements. A dam without a method to remove the water safely is clearly in a failure mode. Oroville Dam, as of this writing, is in a precarious situation. The spillways are in the process of failure. The losses already suffered are horrible. If we see the weir of the emergency spillway fail, the losses will be incalculable.

The Oroville Dam will probably not breech. I hope with all of my heart that it does not. Don’t ever take my criticism as some desire for catastrophe. It is just the opposite. I find the failure to maintain our elements of our infrastructure as a societal failure of a magnitude heretofore unseen. If we continue unchanged with these failures, if we fail to rebuild and maintain, we will become a third-world country. If the great United States of America is to step into the next few decades as a world power, it will be with renewed infrastructure. Without it we will fail as a nation and as a government.

We have watched as our great steel mills moved to Japan. We have watched as our great manufacturing move to Japan, then China. We have watched as our assembly move to Mexico. Through it all, we have watched. The time has come to act, or to surrender all that we once were. As a nation we have a debt of nineteen trillion dollars with a further commitment of four trillion dollars. We have a backlog of infrastructure improvement of an additional two trillion dollars. These numbers are so large that the human mind cannot comprehend them. As a nation we must satisfy this debt. We cannot save our way out of this problem. It is too large.

To survive, as a nation, and a model to the free world, we must work our way out of our smothering debt. To do this, we must have the machine of our economy operating unencumbered. Our infrastructure is a systemic element of our health as a nation. The social and societal failures that we now see as a nation are symptoms of a failing nation, a failing way of life. They will be repaired by the improvement of the whole. The despair of many is real. Men must see an avenue to success. They must be able to sustain themselves and their families.

Let us consider what it would be like if we were unlucky. Certainly, we may yet be unlucky, but what would California, the United States be like if Oroville had failed completely?

Imagine a nation and a state stretched to a fiscal breaking point encumbered with the costs of the rebuilding of a huge area of homes, schools, businesses. Imagine the mud and the cleanup. Imagine the lives lost. Remember Katrina, if you think that the white knights would come to fix all that is wrong, we have allowed ourselves to become something less than we once were. I believe that such a failure would be the first loss in a digression of our standard of living, it would certainly be so for the areas in the inundation zone, crops lost from need of irrigation, drinking water rationed, water quality reduced.

Some choose to defend the operation of a near-failing dam. I weigh the hurt feelings of a few men who failed to maintain, against all of the death and destruction. I wish that all could be happy and nice. It can not. Perhaps, many people will have to die to change the minds of men. There are so many dams that are balanced, waiting on that one storm. Let it be a lesser dam, a lesser population, if some must die to get the nation to hear this cry. Let it be faces that I do not know, voices that I have never heard, so that my dreams are not haunted for the rest of my life.

Blame must be assigned when all is lost, as it certainly must be. When it happens, that tragedy, it will not be the fault of the operators of Oroville. It will not be the failure of the state or the nation. It will not be the failure of the men who refused to fund maintenance.

It will be the failure of one man only, one who did what he could, but failed. It will be the failure only of one who cared too deeply. When it happens, as it must, It shall be my failure, and my failure alone.

Scott Cahill

Oroville Dam, a Committee to Draft Culpable Deniability

For the moment, Oroville stands quietly on, and watches the workers, carrying out their work into the night to plug the holes in her magnificent structure. She is a bit of Mother Nature, constructed of her elements, manipulated by man, but still, elementally unchanged. Men pile rocks, and Mother Nature laughs, at the effort, as she levels mountains as a matter of course. She is a grand lady, yet a fickle one, She will bend, perhaps, but always, she shall have her way. To her, there are but two classes of man, those who respect, and those who do not.

The snowpack waits, quiet in the mountains for the spring. The reservoirs, too wait. They wait for the onslaught of water running its course, inevitably to the great sea. Many are full, unable to help, to catch for a moment, the water which must come, in time.

Men wait, too. They are not the men who respect Mother Nature. They are men of words. They craft them, and they manipulate them. They even try to stop others from using them. Words can be grand, words can incite in men, actions that change the future of our world, These are not men of those words, their words are designed only for themselves. Their agenda is short term, to make it perhaps through the snow melt, to hide the lies, to make it to the dry season, when they can cover the wounds, and let the people forget. They think of retirement, and pay, coffee and donuts. They think themselves important because their failures elevated their persona, yet, still, their words do not reflect reality. Their words, still, only serve their insignificant agenda.

Great men use words, too. words are the tools of the greatest of men. They draft words, to convey, to insight, and to warn. Great men wish to change the world, to uncover truth and to address it. They wish for a world better than it is. They wish for honor.

Now, in the shadow of disaster, the men of the dam draft a “committee” assembled by those who so failed their charge, to investigate their actions, and to find them competent. They shall be found competent. It will be found that their actions and their lack of action were valid. It shall be said that “no one could have foreseen” such a storm (as they said of Katrina, a small storm). They shall be seen as heroes, who ran into the fray, and saved the day at the last moment. There will be articles and news conferences, where these “selected” engineers will explain what happened. Many will change their minds, convinced of the valor and the heroism of these great men who so poorly managed the dam. It will be said that the evacuation was a mistake. Perhaps the Sherriff will be blamed, for the unnecessary action. The men who failed so miserably, will have failed no more. They will be rewarded, they will be promoted. They will have proved themselves, in the eyes of a failed government, as worthy.

If the dam breaks, it will have been an act of God. “No one could have forseen such an event”, they will say. Perhaps they will write books, telling of their trials in the face of calamity with their faces on the covers and the dam, breeched in the background. They will site the report that they had written, explaining how the event was inevitable. They will repeat in the pages of their books, the absolutes that they told us all. They will speak of the bedrock. They will say that the spillway is not part of the dam. They will say that everything was done perfectly. They will reference the report to prove their point.

In the sunlight after the rain, some will have to rebuild this dam and the water resources that were destroyed, the whole of a way of life destroyed by negligence. These men will step forward, medals on their chests, and they will lead the way, backed by the “selected engineers” who were on the committee, they will reconstruct. Your heroes of the horrible flood will be your leaders of tomorrow. They will decide where the funds are spent, and they will be well paid, not for acting on the committee, but for the design and expertise that they offer after the failure.

History is written by the victors. History is being written today. It shall have no similarity to reality. It shall be it’s own truth, a secondary truth. When those who caused a massive problem investigate themselves there can be but one outcome. We all know it immoral. We all know it a lie, yet, it is happening beneath our noses.

Scott Cahill

Oroville Dam – Dishonor is dishonor. It has no bounds

I am an odd type. I am a builder who cares deeply about water quality. The Feather River will, of course never be the same. The ecological mess that took place as a result of the failures of the spillways are horrible in scope and intensity.

The men who manage the fish hatchery downstream, wisely moved the fish. Other men saved some fish from the river. That is wonderful, and I thank them.

A long time ago, my company drained a federal park dam in a national forest. It was in a mountainous area. We opened the valve and we had been directed to let the fish die. The fish in the reservoir were not indigenous species, and they were to be replaced with appropriate fish.

I was trying to sleep in my hotel room, finally getting dressed and going to the reservoir in the middle of the night to do what I could to save, perhaps, a few fish. When I arrived, I saw lights. My entire crew, also unable to sleep, were in the mud in the middle of the night with buckets and nets and tarps, saving and carrying fish to the next impoundment down the watershed. I helped, driving the fish down and releasing them. We stayed up all night. No single man who worked for me on that job stayed behind. They were not paid for their time. There only compensation was saving some little life.

I was very proud and tired when morning came. I bought the muddy lot breakfast, and with coffee, we toasted the fish and turtles. None of us felt good the next day, except in our hearts. We love fish and turtles and things that crawl in the mud.

Today a friend forwarded this to me. I do not know if it is real or not. Nothing could surprise me with this comedy of errors.

Let us all hope this a hoax. If we are hiding more and more, where does it end?

Scott Cahill

Oroville Dam – Shooting the Sheriff

I recently had a conversation, in which the person, with whom I was speaking explained that the Butte County Sheriff, Kory Honea, was responsible for a false evacuation of the areas beneath the Oroville Dam.

I do not know the Sheriff, or any of the players in this farcical play that is in the middle act in central California. I do have some opinions, though, and as has been proved time and again, I am prone to voice my opinions. The sheriff made the call to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people. It choked roads and inconvenienced many families. It must have been a difficult decision.

I watched the “news conferences” and I watched the dam. As has been pointed out on multiple occasions, it is truly “none of my business.” I suppose that the potential death of a couple of hundred thousand innocent people is, indeed, none of my business. I suppose that it is no one’s business. Perhaps it is everyone’s business. In any case, I have made it my business. Some hate me for saying what I believe, some love me. I don’t care. I make my statements, which I truly believe to be true, to help. I understand that these points irritate and hurt feelings. I am uncaring about hurt feelings. I am caring about life. I say what I say for selfish reasons, so that I do not have to look back and wish that I had said something.

The sheriff did what he had to do, at a time when others were paralyzed in fear. He acted as a sheriff and as a gentleman. He made the difficult call, it was the right call, and I would have done what he did if I was in his shoes. The dam did not break. I am glad that the dam did not fail. I am certain that the Sheriff, too, is glad that the dam still holds. Now those who look for fault, turn to the sheriff. “Was he too quick to act.” “Was he wrong.” “Should he have kept his mouth shut and stood quietly beside the others?” Someone must make a stand here, and it might as well be me.

Butte County Sheriff, Kory Honea Did what he should have done. He was right, and he was timely. His actions were wholly appropriate. The dam was only minutes away from a catastrophic failure. Others will now say otherwise. It is easy to be bold after the sun comes out and all seems quiet. Most will never understand how close we came to a horrible and irreparable failure. It was but minutes away.

The likelihood that the sheriff’s actions took a hundred thousand people out of harms way is 100%. The likelihood that his actions may have saved so many lives is absolute. Shame on men who question his actions. With the dam literally breaking, he acted as he should have acted. I doubt that anyone else involved would have, or could have. I promise you that he was right.

There is plenty of opportunity to criticize. There are many who failed to do what they were responsible to do. Do not tolerate attacks on this man, who acted with honor. When all hell broke loose, he protected you.

Scott Cahill


Watching a Great Nation, as it Dies


I once dreamed of building great structures as I nailed blocks of wood together that my father brought me from construction sites. You see, my father, too, was a builder. There are two kinds of men in this world, those who build, and those who destroy. Building is a tedious and difficult action. Destruction is simple.

Things that were built with great difficulty and planning, may be cast to dust in an instant. These buildings, bridges, dams, and roadways across our great Nation were built by a sea of men, who worked in the heat and cold with hammers and wrenches. The whole is incomprehensibly complex. It is an insurmountable task. Like eating an elephant, it was done one bite at a time. Now, we sit and watch as it slowly crumbles.

In a cemetery, there are rows of stones. They mark the plots where caskets lie in the ground, lives gone, buried, forgotten, but for a name on a granite marker and the memories of those who live on. It is so for the builder, too. Our monuments are bridges and tunnels, power plants, and dams. The work is hard, the life is hard, but the monuments are magnificent.

Still, time is the enemy of all that is standing. She is uncaring and unkind. She drops her shroud across it all. Time has taken from man the great Roman works. The ruins are left to amaze the onlooker at the wonders gone, aqueducts, coliseums, cobble roadways that once connected the greatest empires, reduced, at last to a tourist destination.

She looks now upon the great works of our fathers. Will some strange men come one day and stand in front of a great iron bridge, half-collapsed in Pittsburgh, and take a picture, reading a plaque about the civilization that once existed at the meeting of these three great rivers? The ghosts of riveters and men of steel look on, as we desecrate their work. They cry in the night as once-great structures become slums at the hands of men who do not value quality, or aesthetics.

I was a boy, once, in Salem, Ohio. Salem is a little city. Once it stood at the crossroads of great industry. On the tracks of steel that connected the east to the west. Still I hear the sounds of the great engines as they churn through the night. I was born to them. I will die to them. They are a part of me, as is every nail and bolt that holds together countless elements of buildings and plants, bridges, and dams.

Salem is different now, time changes all. Salem now has little industry. Great tradesmen have been replaced by the desperate and the corrupt, like parasites on a dying animal, they care not for their host. Much of the good is gone, the mills, the tradesmen, the construction. Salem waits for time, to cast her shroud over the architecture of the city. Buildings with ornate facades, mortar crumbling, stained glass windows, falling from rotting frames, beauty becoming ugly, as the corrupt look on for opportunity.

I left Salem long ago. I left her to fend for herself, as I went to build. I thought that it would be here waiting for me to return, unchanged, intact, whole. Alas, time has taken over. She sneaked in as I moved on and decimated my home. We battle, but one man cannot win in a fight with time. She is patient.

It takes all of us, every hand, every voice, to stand up against time, to stand up against corruption, to stand up against government gone awry. It takes every man to think, to understand, to work, and to protest, to change the failings of our nation. There is no time to rest in a democracy. For, democracy is not a normal state of man. Totalitarianism is the normal state of man. Always, democracy requires effort and action to be maintained. Always, in the void of inaction, totalitarianism shall take over with its insidious evolution.

This is what has become of Salem. It has slipped into a state of despair and corruption from which, perhaps, it cannot be retrieved. Our nation, too, is frought with corruption. It is reeling from the losses of freedom, it subordinates itself to oligarchic elements. Shall we all rise up now to fix what is broken, or will we keep quiet, as freedom after freedom are stripped from us, until at last, there remains nothing of so grand a state, but despair, and fear?

The question is this; Salem, Ohio, or the United States, the problem and its symptoms are the same. Shall we rise up as men and build, again, the crumbling elements of our cities, of our nation, or shall we look away and hope that time is kind, and lets us pass, before the inevitable descends upon our children, to fight the enemies that we failed to address? The choice is this; fight, or fail. There is no other call.

If you wonder, what is at risk? It all is at risk. If you wonder, how far will some go to erode the freedoms of men? There is no limit and no end to the efforts of evil. Are we men who can face discomfort and conflict, or cowards, who hide at confrontation?

Scott Cahill