From the Tail of the Dragon to Cleaning the Downstream Face of Santeetlah Dam

The Great Smoky Mountains are home to an astounding landscape full of rolling green mountains and cascading rivers. Unless you’re a motorcycle enthusiast, there’s a good chance you’re not familiar with US Route 129. But tucked away in the Great Smoky Mountains is a portion of US Route 129 colloquially known as The Tail of the Dragon. This stretch of narrow two-lane road is a true engineering marvel, hosting 318 banked curves in 11 miles—some so sharp that “you can see your own taillights.”

On their pilgrimage to The Tail of the Dragon, motorcyclists are first greeted by Lake Santeetlah, just north of the quiet town of Robbinsville, North Carolina. It was at the north end of this lake, on Santeetlah Dam, where Alta Access technicians Keith Luscinski and Matt Pittman found themselves working over the course of the summer.

Tail of the Dragon

In June, Alta Access teamed up with Ground Engineering Contractors (GEC) to tackle an impressive project, within an even more impressive timeline. The overall scope of the project included cleaning the downstream face of the right abutment of Santeetlah Dam, followed up with documenting conditions at the newly cleaned areas.

Though the cleaning scope was simple in theory—use pneumatic hammers and power washers to remove loose surface material—the access difficulties posed some unique challenges that highlighted Alta Access’ expertise. With the dam lacking certified anchors, Alta Access’ licensed structural engineer, Kelly Streeter, worked with the dam owner to provide engineering validation of existing structural elements for use as industrial rope access anchors. Figuring out how to safely use these in-situ anchors saved us time and reduced the need to install unnecessary equipment on the dam.

Where existing structural anchor points didn’t exist, Alta Access designed and installed adhesive anchor systems in the concrete. After installation, Alta technicians proof-loaded 100% of the anchors and assisted GEC with rigging a suspended scaffold and associated fall protection systems from the anchor systems.

Finally, Alta Access designed a custom engineered work platform to fit the 60° downstream face of the dam. After only a couple days in the shop, GEC had all of the platform’s custom parts fully fabricated and on site, waiting for construction. Working side-by-side, Alta and GEC technicians constructed the platform in a few days, allowing the cleaning scope to proceed on schedule.

With the dam fully cleaned, Alta technicians used TPAS® (our Tablet PC Annotation System) to document existing conditions at the downstream face of the dam. By Friday of that week, the final report was in our client’s hands.

Overall, our work at Santeetlah Dam went off without a hitch, and we hope to team up again soon with Ground Engineering Contractors!