MSU-Northern Engineering Students see Reconstruction of BR-12 Dam

Story and photos by Abby Hall, Rangeland Management Specialist, Havre Field Office

MSU-Northern civil engineering students got a firsthand look at a dam reconstruction site this winter as they toured the BLM’s Blaine Reservoir No. 12 (BR-12).

MSU Dam Tour
Youderian Construction employees working on BR-12. 

BR-12 was constructed in northern Blaine County in 1936 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project to provide flood control and water for livestock. More recently, it was designated a watchable wildlife area and is now grazed strategically to benefit riparian communities and wildlife habitat. It is also a premier waterfowl production area and is frequented by outdoor enthusiasts, local schools, 4-H clubs, and the Boy Scouts of America for field activities.

The BR-12 embankment was damaged and subsequently breached during severe flooding in 2011. An environmental assessment was completed in 2013 for reconstructing the embankment, but due to the high costs associated with large earthen hazard-class dams, the final project design and funding were not in place until 2019. Reconstruction began in late September 2019 and is nearly complete.

Seeing a unique hands-on learning opportunity, Abby Hall, Rangeland Management Specialist for the Havre Field Office, took a group of Montana State University Northern (MSUN) engineering students to the construction site in November 2019. Students were American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) enrolled in the Civil Engineering Technician (CET) or Design Drafting Programs at MSUN. Associate CET Professor Jeremy Siemens accompanied the students.

BR-12 Tour
Tyler Youderian (yellow safety vest) of Youderian
Construction visits with MSUN students and professor
about construction of BR-12 and equipment.

BLM civil engineers Mike Montgomery and Brandie Folck met the group at the site, along with plenty of wind, mud and snow. Each student got a complete set of design drawings to get the discussion started. Montgomery answered questions and explained various phases of the construction process while students examined the blueprints.

After the initial design review, students toured different areas of the construction site and compared constructed features with project plans. Contractor Tyler Youderian of Youderian Construction explained the use of RTK GPS technology and how it relates to efficiency during construction - allowing machinery to cut grade to sub-inch accuracy while eliminating the need to constantly re-survey projects.

Other topics of discussion included physical and chemical properties of soil, moisture content and compaction, sand filters, toe and chimney drains, outlet basins and energy dissipation, and principle and auxiliary spillway size calculations relative drawdown requirements and storm events.

To conclude the tour, Montgomery invited the group to his cargo trailer turned office/testing lab to explain the real time soil moisture and density testing that goes on during construction. Montgomery sent the students back to their next class noting that the BLM is a great place for engineers to gain experience in a wide variety of projects including buildings, roads, fences, pipelines, and dams.

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