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Engineering expert to give talk about Grand Coulee Dam


Last updated 8/22/2018 at 10:20am

Those of us who look at the Grand Coulee Dam and think “how in the hell did they manage to build that?” will have the opportunity to have that question answered in detail by an engineering expert.

Raymond “Paul” Giroux will be making a free presentation on “Building Grand Coulee Dam,” Saturday, Aug. 25, at 6:30 p.m. at the Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Center.

The roughly hour-long presentation will highlight the construction of the primary structure, which was completed by the spring of 1942.

Giroux spoke to The Star about what made the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam such a unique challenge.

“From a design perspective, there are a couple of things,” Giroux said. “One, the bureau designed Grand Coulee as the largest gravity-based construction for a dam. The Hoover is an arch dam that is quite a bit easier to manage the stresses and loads. Grand Coulee relies on the gravity of its mass to prevent it from turning over. Also, the quality of the foundation has to be really, really good. Grand Coulee was the boldest dam ever undertaken by man, as Jack Savage put it, a legendary engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation in the early 20th century.”

Giroux explained that the Columbia River flow is more than twice the Colorado River’s at Hoover Dam. “The contractors and everyone had to deal with quite a bit more water, which is a challenge,” he said. “Also, Hoover Dam is built behind cofferdams with the Colorado River diverted through diversion tunnels. Grand Coulee Dam had to be built in such a way that the river flowed through it while they built it. That was quite a bit of a challenge for the builders.”

Giroux said the harsher weather and remote location of Grand Coulee added to the challenge.

Another challenge in building the dam, Giroux said, came in the middle of the contract when a major design change to raise the dam 200 feet in elevation had to be implemented.

“When I was researching Hoover, I was always wondering why Grand Coulee Dam wasn’t more prominent in the discussions of America’s greatest engineering achievements,” Giroux said. “After researching it, I’m convinced it should be. The people that built it are pretty remarkable builders.”

Having spoken about Grand Coulee Dam at numerous engineering schools around the country, Giroux is excited to finally make the presentation at the dam itself.

“I’ll get into all the nuts and bolts,” he said. “People will walk away with a pretty good understanding of how it was built.”

Giroux has been involved in the 125th year anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge’s 75th, Hoover Dam’s 75th, and the 100-year anniversary of the Panama Canal. He is the author of several bridge-design and civil-engineering history papers, and is an active speaker at engineering schools throughout the United States. In 2017, he was the recipient of the American Society of Civil Engineers Roebling Award for Construction Engineering and was inducted into the Iowa State University Construction Engineering Hall of Fame in 2018.


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