A TVA document created prior to the construction of Cherokee Dam/Reservoir says that the Agency would remove or destroy, “Structures which, if they remained in place, might cause loss of life.” It appears that the people responsible for carrying out that mission nearly eighty years ago might have missed their mark.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency investigators say that Wednesday night, around 10:30 pm, Charles Clifton Nalley, 70, crashed into an old concrete silo that was sticking above the Cherokee Lake waterline. The silo can be seen in this Google Maps imagery.
Nalley was killed in the accident. He was wearing a life preserver but investigators said he was most likely killed due to head trauma during the collision. A TWRA wildlife officer was on the water nearby and responded to the scene swiftly, rendering first aid. But investigators said it was too late to save Nalley’s life. They said he was from Rome, Ga., visiting family in the area and might not have been very familiar with Cherokee Lake. The local district attorney’s office has order an autopsy.
Construction on Cherokee Dam was completed on December 5, 1941. In a TVA “Project Book” provided by TVA, it says that seven concrete silos were destroyed prior to flooding the lake, along with several sets of abandoned bridge piers. It says TVA destroyed two silos, but the other five were destroyed by U.S. Army Corp of Engineers who “utilized the opportunity for field testing explosives and demolition methods.” Item 3 indicates that “Structures projecting above elevation 1075 were not removed unless their foundations were insecure.”
The silo in the incident that killed Nalley was not destroyed. The people who work for TVA now do not know exactly why those decisions were made nearly 80 years ago and have not commented. However the Cherokee Lake silo in question is not the only one on East Tennessee reservoirs.
TWRA Boating and Law Enforcement Capt. George Birdwell worked the Cherokee Lake accident along with Officer Cody Young.
“I know there are several similar silos in other places,” said Capt. Birdwell. “There are three on Cherokee and at least six on nearby Douglas Lake. Most are in relatively shallow water and well off the main navigation channel. This is the first such accident [involving a silo] I can ever recall.”
Capt. Birdwell said Cherokee Lake is at full pool now so the silo extended “about eight or ten feet out of the water.”
He said the responsibility for safety and potential navigation hazards ultimately rests with the boat operator.
“My opinion is anyone on the water has to be prepared for any navigation hazard, whether it’s a silo or a log floating down the river,” said Capt. Birdwell.
TWRA Boating and Law Enforcement Capt. Matt Majors said, “I can remember water skiing by some of these silos on Tellico Lake. There are multiple such silos out there. I was on Ft. Loudon the other day and noticed one where people were climbing up and jumping off of it. It was outside the regular navigation area, but could somebody run into it? Sure they could.”
Capt. Majors, like Capt. Birdwell, said in his years as a boating accident investigator, he does not remember any other collisions with silos. There have, however, been other fatalities from boaters who have run into the large pilings constructed to moor barges along the river.
As for any action to remove silos or other navigation hazards, Capt. Majors said, “People use every part of our lakes. Many recreational boaters just don’t comprehend navigation channels. They see water and they think they can operate in it. I think anything out there should be scrutinized to assess the danger level.”
Regarding the Cherokee Lake accident site, TVA spokesperson Travis Brickey said, “We are going to review that area and see if hazard buoys would help.”
Capt. Majors said this is the eighth boating fatality in Tennessee in 2017. He said in 2016 there had been 13 such fatalities at about this time of year.