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Distinguishing between the alarms

By Michael Butler

A recent addition of warning sirens on the Tallapoosa River below Thurlow Dam in Tallassee has caused some confusion for locals.

Alabama Power Company has installed two alarms.

"The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERT) asked us to work with the city and try to find ways to make it safer," Thurlow Plant superintendent Joel Johnson said. "We added one about a mile down that faces downstream and put a second at the AES boat ramp that faces upstream."

The siren indicates when hydroelectric power generation flow changes and water flow increases. The sirens do resemble the city's weather alert sirens.

Georgia Anne, Jack and Daniel Butler at the Thurlow Plant tour during Tallassee Now

"In the beginning they wanted it to be consistent with the siren that's at the dam," Johnson added. "The siren that is mounted right on the dam can be heard to about the middle school. All three sirens are consistent in sound. It's real easy to change that tone, so we're looking at a high/low tone."

The sound of sirens a good distance beyond the riverfront have been reported, but the decibel level may be adjusted, Johnson explained.

"We did a sound test with the ambient noise. We're going to do more tests. There are four sirens stacked on top of each other, so we can unplug one siren at a time to lower that decibel level."

Johnson added that once the alarm is sounded, people on the water should get to a safe place.

"It takes about two or three minutes for the unit to go from motoring to generating mode which is the water coming through the turbine. It then takes about 30 minutes for it to get downstream to AES boat ramp. If you hear that siren, that's plenty of time to get out of the water."

Tallassee mayor Johnny Hammock discussed the importance of heeding the warnings provided by the new alarm system.

"Last I checked, we had more people dying in the river than we do in tornadoes," Hammock said. "Not to say that a tornado couldn't come through today and kill somebody. That river is dangerous and unforgiving. Since, I've been here there have been three bodies fished out; a kayaker, an 18-month-old baby and a lady that jumped off the bridge.

"What people don't understand, is how much it costs taxpayers every time we've got to fish one out. When you count state police, helicopter, county and everybody else - about $40,000 - 50,000. Loss of life is the most important thing, but it costs a lot of money to locate that body too."

Tallapoosa River in Tallassee downstream from Thurlow Dam