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The big BANG

Controlled explosion for water project along the Rogue gives blasters an earful

What was intended to be an uneventful blast to loosen 350 cubic yards of river rock upstream from Gold Hill exploded in a rain of rock and debris Thursday that flew from one side of the river to the other.

Andy George, project manager for Johnny Cat Inc., the general contractor for the &

36;1,084,000 project, had predicted a scenario of little to see and less to hear.

Blasting is supposed to be uneventful, George told the on Sunday. There won't be any big clouds of dirt. There won't be any flying rock. (The rock) just raises up about eight inches and then settles back down.

BJ Equipment of Eugene was hired to blast a hole in the bedrock on the riverbank as part of a project to install new intake pumps for Gold Hill's municipal water system. State and federal officials ordered the city to abandon its old intake system because it impeded fish movement in the river.

— Originally slated for Wednesday morning, the blasting was rescheduled to 9 a.m. Thursday. Detonation came four hours behind schedule at — p.m. ' 30 minutes after three commercial rafts had floated past the site.

Bart Baldwin, an experienced guide for Noah's River Adventures, said the blasts couldn't have come at a worse time for rafting crews. Rafting companies had been notified by Johnny Cat that the blast would take place in the morning, he said. Noah's had not been notified of any delay, he said.

We had six boats out there today, said Baldwin. They told me there wasn't going to be any flying rock.

No rafters were in the immediate area at the time of detonation.

As BJ Equipment crews finished drilling the blasting holes, they placed metal shields and blasting tunnels near the site in anticipation of the explosion.

Before the detonation, crews sounded a loud horn that began a five-minute warning. Traffic was halted on Highway 234, and safety spotters watched for unaware travelers along the Rogue River.

George said earlier this week there would be two detonations, one that would split the rock around the perimeter, and another, milliseconds later, that would shatter the rock in the hole. He declined to answer questions Thursday about the unanticipated fallout, saying he was not on site for the detonation.

A woman who answered the phone at BJ Equipment said she could not locate anyone at the site who could answer questions.

A representative from Lee-Pace Engineering, hired by the city to design the project, had no immediate explanation for the unexpected rockfall. Engineer Ed Hodges said BJ Equipment's original plans for the blast might have been altered because of equipment failures and challenging site conditions.

This is not typical, said Hodges. But there is a significant volume of rock being removed. No representatives from Lee-Pace were on site during the blast, Hodges said.

Royal Gasso, Gold Hill public works director, said he hoped the blast did the job of removing the rock and that another charge would not be necessary.

Sometimes they blast, remove all the rock and debris and there's still more rock down there, said Gasso.

Gasso said Johnny Cat's efforts to create a dry building area in the riverbed had finally met with success. The city was working on getting an extension from the Division of State Lands to allow construction to continue till the end of September, he said.

The city is optimistic that Johnny Cat will complete the project on time (with the extension), said Gasso. Of course, we'll need a little help from the weather.

The big BANG"sspecht@mailtribune.com.

Crews blast in the bedrock along the Rogue River upstream from Gold Hill in preparation for the city?s new water intake pumps. The blast sent debris across the river. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli