Chaney, Miami River Area team continues to revolutionize USACE

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District
Published Jan. 21, 2021

Upgrades to lakes in the Miami River Area in the last five years have provided safety, cost and health benefits which have been recognized by other agencies and the community. 

After Keith Chaney’s selection as the national recipient of the FY2016 Operations and Maintenance Castle Award, he and his co-workers continue to revolutionize the Corps. 

The Castle Award recognizes USACE wage grade employees who consistently demonstrate excellence in specific contributions over a career, provide superior customer service, safe work ethic, and technical innovation.  

“Mr. Chaney has continued to demonstrate these attributes to this day, both in his professional life as well as his personal life,” said Matthew Palmer, former C.J. Brown Dam and Reservoir manager. “Mr. Chaney's drive and pursuit of excellence are the qualities that make everyone around him better employees.” 

An example of the work includes patches on two bypasses in the C.J. Brown Dam and Reservoir control tower. The work required painting and fumes in the work area caused a safety and health hazard for workers. Chaney coordinated with Kate Brandner, currently the acting dam section chief, to install T-flange access in bypass air vents which could be used to serve as natural ventilation when needed. 

Referencing a diagram of intricate duct work, Brandner said, “We went through the specifications, tracked down the piping on that floor to make sure we were accessing the correct pipe. The endplate is on the flange. When the plate is removed, it allows ventilation.” Ventilation work included adding an exhaust fan, like those at Caesar Creek and Harsha lakes, at C.J. Brown as an additional safety factor for employees. 

Chaney’s suggestion for C.J. Brown to purchase a track loader allows employees to remove debris from a peninsula at the tail end of the dam. When the lake level lowers, employees can remove debris as part of dam maintenance. In winter, the track loader is used to clear trails, which Chaney stated has received praise from lake visitors. 

According to Palmer, Chaney took the initiative to coordinate with Engineering Division Water Management and U.S. Geological Survey to have an automated tailwater gage installed.  This allows instantaneous verification that the water releases from the dam are occurring as intended.  

“We typically determine releases as a function of pool elevation and how much the conduit gates are open, and occasionally a gate will drift or doesn’t get opened/closed as expected,” said Adam Connelly, water management team leader. “The tailwater gage is a physical check on what we believe we are releasing at any time.” 

He added that the gage is a resource to the public for awareness of how much water is being released from the dam. The public has used the gage readings to see if conditions are good for kayaking. 

“In this respect, the tailwater gage also assists with public safety for downstream recreation,” Connelly added. 

Chaney borrowed an idea from Caesar Creek when employees converted an old storage area into volunteer campsites. The Corps supplies campsite/lodging, water, electricity and sewer and, in exchange, volunteers work 20 hours per week for single volunteers and 30 hours per week per married couple. Volunteers support the visitor center, trail maintenance, painting projects and restroom checks among other duties during their 120-day volunteer commitment.

Lessons learned and ideas are shared across the Miami River Area and the district through safety meetings, visiting agencies and inspections. 

During an inspection, USGS praised work at C.J. Brown after the team replaced the motor control center in the reservoir tower. The plexiglass cover on the float well eased the readings of lake levels during monitoring and inspections. 

“I like to do improvements,” Chaney said. “I get gratification when we do improvements, and the USGS folks say this is a great idea. It’s what keeps me going.” He added he also brings back ideas from other lakes including visits to other agencies such as Tennessee Valley Authority. 

Chaney, who has worked at three district lakes, relied on his experience at Harsha and Caesar Creek lakes to share benefits at C.J. Brown. Palmer stated Chaney has been a driving force behind the 2019 prescribed prairie burns at C.J. Brown and the control of phragmites on the dam. Phragmites, an invasive non-native perennial wetland plant, steals nutrients and space from fish, plants and wildlife. 

“Mr. Chaney’s drive and pursuit of excellence are the qualities that make everyone around him better employees,” Palmer said. “He is an inveterate team player, a consummate professional, and an inspiration to work with.”