Tunnel project nears completion

by nathan oster
G.K. Construction has passed the midway point of a project that will to alleviate landowner concerns about the deteriorating condition of a 500-foot tunnel between Shell and Greybull that was build in the early 1900s.
Chris Knodell is a project manager for States West Water Resources, Corp., an engineering firm based in Buffalo and Cheyenne that is managing the Shell Canal Tunnel Rehabilitation Project.
“I’d say we’re over 55 percent done,” said Knodel. “We’ve been in construction mode for a little over a month. We were hoping to get done by April 1, but it looks like we’ll get it done easily by March 1.
“So things are good, well ahead of schedule.”
The tunnel that is being dug up was built around 1909, without rebar, and in recent years, has begun to cave in, said John Ed Anderson. Fearing the worst, he Shell Valley Watershed Improvement District began pursuing funding to remove the tunnel and put in its place an open trench along the 500-foot stretch.
An engineer’s estimate of the project costs came in at $1.2 million, but Anderson said the project is on track to be completed for approximately one half of that cost. “Bids came in lower than expected,” he said.
In addition to removing the tunnel, G.K. is also cleanup up the ditch banks for approximately 500 feet on both sides of the tunnel. All together, more than 140,000 yards of soil are being moved for this project. “Of that,” Knodel said, “We’re estimating that about 10 percent is hardrock that they are having to use special techniques to get excavated.”
Knodel and Anderson concurred that the removal of the tunnel would bring a greater sense of security to landowners. “Before, there was probably a significant risk that the tunnel could shift or collapse,” Knodel said. Had that happened, it would have left about 3,700 acres downstream of the tunnel without water.
The tunnel is located approximately eight miles east of Greybull, so a collapse would have meant disaster for properties lying between the tunnel and Greybull, including the Poverty Flats area and the Greybull Heights, among others.
The Shell Canal Company received a Wyoming Water Development Commission grant to fun 67 percent of the project costs. The Shell Canal Company took out a loan, payable over 30 years, to fund the remaining 33 percent of the costs.
The project is progressing under the watchful eye of Ed Welsh, who has been on site round the clock looking for fossils that unearthed by the heavy equipment. As of Thursday, he said he had found “some dinosaur bones and fish scales,” adding, “This is an area known to be very productive (in terms of dinosaur finds). In fact, right now, we’re only a few feet away from a crocodile locality.”