Hawks Nest Tunnel

Montgomery News
June 26, 1936


Water Is Pouring Through
Gates at Rate of Billion
Gallons a Day


Will Stand About Two Weeks
Before Being Turned Into
Huge Turbines

Water pouring through valves at the rate of more than a billion gallons a day is slowly filling the giant Hawk's Nest Tunnel on the New River.

Chief Engineer O. M. Jones, of the Electro-Metallurgical Company, who will use the 167-foot drop in the three and a half mile long boring to give the water sufficient velocity to turn four turbines capable of generating 140,000 horsepower of electricity, said at the present rate it will take until about July 1st to fill the tunnel. He added:

"Then we will let the water stand a week or so, to make sure everything is all right before turning it into the hydro-electrical plant."

A long trail of litigation, investigation and engineering accomplishment preceded the moment when workmen slowly opened the by-passes in the steel gate at the upper end.

More than 5,000 men labored for 30 months boring through long stretches of silica rock on a straight line through the West Virginia mountains to eliminate a huge S curse in the river. Before the $4,000,000 project, which included construction of a dam at the upper end near the famous Hawk's Nest rock which is a tourist's visiting point, the federal government stepped in with the contention that it has jurisdiction over the river. The supreme court of the United States finally turned down the suit on a technicality.

Later, a declaration by the State that the tiny particles of dust flying from drills biting into the silica rock are a contributing cause to various illnesses was augmented by charges in congress that 476 workmen had died and 1,500 others were stricken with silicosis, a lung malady. The West Virginia legislature made silicosis a compensable disease.

The labor committee of the house has a resolution by Representative Vito Marcantonio, Republican, of New York, to investigate the working conditions. A sub-committee heard social workers and others who charged proper safety and ventilation measures were not taken by Rinehart and Dennis, Charlottesville, Va., contractors.

P. H. Faulconer, president of the firm, replied that the silicosis suits are "rackets," He added the company paid $170,000 to settle 300 cases out of court, and paid $166,000 to the state compensation fund although silicosis at that time did not come under the provisions of the law. He declared among 5.000 workmen, there were fewer deaths than there might be in a community of comparable size.

The state supreme court threw out 200 other suits.

Macantonio's charge that 169 workers were buried in a cornfield drew the reply from H. C. White, Summersville undertaker, that he had buried 27, all Negroes, in a private cemetery because there was none for Negroes in the community.

State officials declared the exact conditions probably never would be determined.


West Virginia Archives and History