Piece by piece, floodgate takes shape

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Members of Covington’s Public Works Department battle the bitter cold while putting together the spine of the floodgate at the Madison Overlook earlier today.

Public Works team battles brutal cold, wind as river races by

COVINGTON, Ky. - The cold was merciless. The wind whipping off the Ohio River was unforgiving. The metal pieces were heavy and uncooperative.
And the “fit” required a combination of surgical precision and brute force - often from an aerial perch.
But by 1 p.m. today, about 15 members of Covington’s Public Works Department had succeeded in erecting the Madison Overlook floodgate, sealing off the city from the rising Ohio River at the biggest gap in the floodwall.

Laborer Ryan Tuemler and driver Danny Peters bolt abrace into place.

 Despite the challenging conditions, supervisor Brad Schwenke said he was confident “the floodgate team” would - as always - finish the task in front of them.
“We’ll be done in a couple of hours,” he boasted at one point late in the morning. “But the cold’s killing us - it’s 20 degrees now with a ‘RealFeel’ of 11 degrees. When I got here at 8 a.m., the temperature itself was 14 degrees.”
The floodgate was erected as a precaution.

As Urban Forestry Supervisor Jason Roberts (orange helmet) watches, the crane lifts the second panel.

Swollen by days of rain early in the week, the river had topped the Cincinnati pool flood stage of 52 feet on Thursday evening and was approaching 54 feet today. It was expected to crest at 54.8 feet Saturday evening and begin dropping - a little short of the floodwall opening at the foot of Madison Avenue.
Nevertheless, the sight of the ugly brown water, full of tree trunks and other debris racing by at high speed, offered a visual explanation for the caution. Already, the water was approaching the top of the Madison and Scott overlooks, and the land underneath the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge - the site of the Riverfront Commons project under construction - was covered by the river.
The Madison Overlook gate is one of seven in the city and the first to be installed when the Licking and Ohio rivers start rising. It was erected once in 2019, twice in 2018, and once in 2015, after not having been put up in over a decade.

Laborer Kyle Hodge attaches the crane hook to a panel so it can be lifted out of the storage room.

Lots of parts
The gate itself is a giant version of the children’s K’Nex construction toy set, with each piece carefully bolted, pinned, and slid together, some more easily than others.
The operation required a crane, a Bobcat, a cherry-picker lift, an array of impact wrenches ... and stamina and fortitude. 
  • Step 1: Remove the metal plates that cover the footer holes, clean out the holes and install the anchors.
  • Step 2: Drop in and pin into place six A-frames pieces that look like vertical roof trusses.
  • Step 3: Bolt the frames together with several dozen small steel beams.
  • Step 4: Slide in the panels, 11 on the bottom row and, if needed, 11 on the top row.
  • Step 5: Seal the panels with rubber gaskets.
  • Step 6: Stack 660 small sand bags across the bottom of the first row of panels. 

Clockwise from top left: driver Danny Peters, Parks and Facilities Supervisor Brad Schwenke, assistant project engineer Bill Matteoli and mechanic Mark Ranson.

All the pieces had been stored in a high-ceiling storage room on the north side of the garage for the Cincinnati Marriott at RiverCenter.
Covington’s team had cleaned the area and installed the anchors on Thursday and - with the help of hot coffee and a few heaters - did the main part of the job today.
“These guys know what they’re doing,” Schwenke said.

Groundworker Frank Coogan spent much of his day in the air, working from the lift’s bucket.