Fort Randall Dam project bringing landmark reservoir into next stage of life

July 31, 2018

This paid piece is sponsored by Journey Group.

It’s among the country’s largest reservoirs, a tourist attraction for south-central South Dakota and an important source of hydroelectric power.

But age has taken a bit of a toll on the Fort Randall Dam. Journey Group is in the middle of a two-season project to make a big improvement.

Completed in 1956, the Fort Randall Dam impounds the Missouri River and forms Lake Francis Case in Gregory and Charles Mix counties. In 2011, in response to Missouri River flooding, the dam released a record 143,000 cubic feet per second.

Age and activity have caused the dam’s concrete to expand, contract and start to crack.

Earlier this year, SFC Civil Constructors, a division of Journey Group Cos., was selected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to perform a $6 million upgrade.

“It’s hard work, very detailed and always challenging,” said project manager Sorin Hlihor, a 28-year veteran of Journey.

The project started with a 10-foot-wide strip of concrete that needed to be removed from the total length of the spillway, which is about 1,000 feet long.

“Half of it is done through hydro-demolition,” Hlihor explained. “We brought in a company from Pennsylvania to remove concrete with high-pressure jets of water. And then the other half of the concrete is removed by jackhammer handwork.”

The gates are closed to hold off water, and Journey crews – about 15 to 20 people at any given time – work right below the spillway.

“A lot of people say you’re by the lake and that’s nice, but we are 30 feet below the top of the gate, and when it’s 80 degrees out, on the top of the concrete slab on the spillway the temperature is 100,” he said.

Journey has brought in fans to circulate air and tents for shade.

“We’re trying to do whatever we can,” SFC Civil division leader Jared Gusso said. “We’ve got an ice chest on the spillway for their water bottles. We have popsicles down there to keep them cool. You’re sitting on an 18-inch concrete slab sucking up heat all day, and it doesn’t cool off at night.”

Once concrete is removed, the project will move on to integrating a new design from the the Corps that will create an expansion joint with stainless steel metal angles and plates.

Journey will mix its own concrete on site and place it. The plan is to work as late into the year as weather allows and then finish next spring.


“All the details need to be followed perfectly,” Hlihor said. “We have to provide quality control all the time, safety all the time.”

He’s used to meeting those standards. Before managing the Fort Randall Dam project, Hlihor spent several years overseeing improvements to the federal levee system around Sioux Falls that Journey constructed for the Corps.

“So I’m very familiar with working with the government,” he said. “Everything needs to be perfect.”

SFC Civil has a long history of building public improvements, dating back to 1910. The division takes on structural, transportation, sanitary and environmental construction projects of all sizes, from highways to bridges and water treatment plants.

“We pretty much cover the state and go where the work is at,” Gusso said.

This season is a busy one, with bridge repairs in Yankton County, Gregory County, near Volga and Corson. SFC Civil also is doing bridge work for the city of Sioux Falls and serving as a subcontractor on a runway construction project at the Sioux Falls Regional Airport.

“We’re busy,” Gusso said, adding that he’s always open to hiring.

Workers sometimes come from near the town where a project is occurring, he added. In the case of the major Fort Randall Dam project, many are based in Sioux Falls.

“They stay there for the week, we pay a per diem to be out of town and take care of the motel and meals,” Gusso said. “We’ll also hire local help. If someone in northern Nebraska wants to come work, we’ll hire them. It just depends on where you find the help. But it’s going well. The dam is really in pretty great shape overall, and this is going to help it function even better.”

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Fort Randall Dam project bringing landmark reservoir into next stage of life

Age has taken a bit of a toll on the Fort Randall Dam, so Journey Group is in the middle of a two-season project to make a big improvement.

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