FORD CITY, Pa. – They may just look like large hunks of metal, but the new hoists installed at Crooked Creek Lake will go hard at work to reduce the risk of floods in the greater Pittsburgh region for the next 75 years or longer.
The hoists – weighing 38,000 pounds apiece – work to lift reservoir gates to control the lake’s water level and mitigate flooding downstream. Flood mitigation is one of the Corps of Engineers’ primary missions, and Crooked Creek Dam has helped prevent flooding for both the local community and downtown Pittsburgh since the dam’s construction in 1938.
The Pittsburgh District coordinated with a contractor to install the hoists into the water release tower over the course of several weeks, with the final install completed before the end of February.
The district removed the hoists which had been in use since 1938, when the concrete tower was built.
“They’re as old as the dam,” said Brent Kelly, a maintenance mechanic at Crooked Creek Lake. “They were here long before I was born,” he said with a smile.
However, in early 2023, the Pittsburgh District installed four new hoists inside the dam’s control tower to bring the technology into the modern day. The new hoists make the machinery more efficient, with digital displays that are more accurate and easier to read. The old hoists were approaching the end of their lifespan, making the new ones safer. Additionally, the old hoists relied on braided metal ropes to pulley the gates, a product manufactured by one company, so if they ever failed it would be costly to replace and with long delays.
“The old hoists had an old dial switch you'd watch go from one foot to two feet to three feet, all the way to 180 feet up when it's fully raised,” said Christian Clendenning, a natural resource specialist at Crooked Creek Lake. “Now that we have it on an electronic board, you just press a button and it'll go up and down.”
The scope of improvements the hoists boast is on par with the logistical scope of getting the hoists in place. Each hoist weighs 19 tons, according to Kelly, and required coordination with the district’s operations and contracting departments to move it from the road deck to inside the control tower.
“I like to see everything hands-on. It's nice to see the concept for these old-scale projects but actually seeing it function in real-time is a big thing for me,” said Josh Gostomski, a construction control inspector for the Pittsburgh District. “Fifty years down the road, someone else is going to look back and be impressed by the work we were able to perform.”
For Kelly, the project’s biggest impact is in knowing the install will allow the Corps of Engineers to continue its regional mission.
“Just the pure knowledge of investing in this infrastructure is protecting people. We're protecting so many people downstream,” Kelly said. “We're one of 16 reservoirs and 23 locks and dams here in Pittsburgh District, so we truly save tremendous amounts from flooding, loss of life, loss of industry.”
“It's a perfect reason to keep doing what we do,” Kelly said.