MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. - After years of construction, safety concerns still remain about Lake Okeechobee's feeble dike. The Herbert Hoover dike is considered one of the nation's most at-risk of failure. That's why the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is focused on shoring it up before a devastating storm.
The Corps has been working on replacing or closing off 32 culverts that ring the lake since 2011. Crews need to make one more placement then the work will almost be finished. The culverts are used to drain water from the lake, either for irrigation, or in the case of a big rainmaker, for drainage purposes.
"They're old, they're leaking sediment through them," said Lieutenant Colonel Tom Greco. "So we're in the process of replacing them."
Construction on the culverts is expected to last until 2018. Meanwhile, the Corps continues its efforts to strengthen the 143-mile Herbert Hoover dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee.
"This is one of the highest risk dams in the United States," said Lt. Col. Greco.
After the New Orleans levees failed following Hurricane Katrina, the Army Corps heightened its scrutiny of the dikes and levees under its control.
"Our goal is obviously to avoid disasters of that type, which is why we do the work that we do and why we're conducting rehabilitation along Herbert Hoover dike," explained Greco.
Along the southeastern portion of the lake, at the Pahokee Marina, construction crews are working on making the dike stronger.
"We dug anywhere from 50 to 80 feet, an approximately two-foot-wide trench and filled it with a slurry mixture. And that essentially created a wall that will stop seepage," Greco told us.
While strengthening the dike and replacing the culverts are the two top construction priorities for the Army Corps right now, work will continue long after these projects are finished.
"We're evaluating the rest of the dike on a risk-based approach to identify other weaknesses of the dike and come up with solutions to address those as well," said Greco.
Aside from construction, the Army Corps of Engineers takes on several responsibilities when a hurricane hits. From managing lake levels in Lake Okeechobee, to responding to communities after a disaster.
Aaron Stormant is the Emergency Management Chief for the Jacksonville district. He says the Corps was called in after Hurricane Wilma hit in 2005.
"We were involved in temporary housing and temporary roofing. Both of which were to prevent people from having to leave their homes and go to shelters," he explained.