Thursday, February 09, 2017

Lake Retailers Get A More Level Playing Field

Local lake retailers should be having a bit of a celebration.  Starting February 1st, 2017 (yes, it's already begun), any purchases from Amazon will be subject to a 4.225% sales tax.  No more window shopping at a brick and mortar store only to go home and purchase the same item tax free on Amazon. To be fair, the trend for the number of states imposing sales tax on Amazon purchases has only been going up over the past few years, and it won't be long before all states follow suit I imagine.

Although the law that makes this possible was passed in 2013, the conditions for it to take effect only happened recently as Amazon announced the expansion of distribution centers across the country and an additional 100,000 jobs, which will include Missouri I guess. These will not be good paying jobs of course, but no one qualified the push for job growth in the state with the requirement they had to be good ones. So in exchange for a presumably small number of unskilled labor jobs, all Missourians now get to pay more for their online purchases.

I'm sure retailers large and small find it frustrating that they lose business to Amazon, but as a consumer, I'm only interested in my own bottom line, which just took a nearly 5% hit. Is this good for state revenue?  It remains to be seen, but obviously it's a revenue enhancement of some kind.  What is clear is that for young tech savvy families just interested in saving money, the sales-tax free party is over.

Anecdotally: I have made a purchase on Amazon this month, but wasn't charged sales tax....hmm.

Of course, the story isn't as simple as I make it, but since we all seem to enjoy getting our news within our own bubbles, you can choose your own source for more details.

Conservative Fox news link.

Not So Conservative news link. (I don't know if the St. Louis Post-Dispatch would embrace being labeled a liberal news organization)

Don't say I never gave you choices.

Bagnell Dam Structural Upgrades Begin in March 2017

By now, many have heard that Ameren will be investing $52 million dollars in upgrades to Bagnell Dam, but what exactly are they going to do?  Is the dam broken?

No, Bagnell Dam is not broken, or structurally deficient, but it could probably use a little work.  The last time Bagnell Dam had a major structural upgrade was in 1980 when 277 post-tension anchors were installed to secure the dam to the underlying bedrock.  Recall that Bagnell Dam is what is known as a gravity dam, meaning it is held in place by sheer weight. While this is a perfectly acceptable design methodology there are potential issues to contend with and the anchors set in 1980 were installed to insure the dam would not move from its position over time.

Ameren will be installing 68 more anchors along with additional concrete to reinforce the roadway deck from underneath, and also repair the top roadway deck itself.  The top deck work is more cosmetic than structural, but as anyone who drives across the dam on a regular basis knows, it looks bad. The condition of the roadway concrete gives the impression that the dam is in disrepair, appearances being what they are.

So what is a "post-tension anchor"?  How does it work to keep a dam in place?

Post-tension anchors, conceptually, are quite simple.  Bore holes are drilled through the dam and into the underlying bedrock with a tension cable running through the entire thing.  Once properly anchored, the cable is tightened, much like a giant bolt, to provide additional frictional force between the dam and the bedrock.  Simple, but as with all things, the devil is in the details.

Ameren won't say why the additional anchors are needed, there are many reasons to install such devices in dams, but the overall goal is strengthening.  The reasons for strengthening an existing dam vary but the two main ones are to meet new safety regulations or increasing a dam's water storage capacity.  Both of these reasons are unlikely since Bagnell Dam just went through a relicensing process which required extensive analysis of its condition, and Ameren cannot raise the operating level of the lake.  Is there any other reason for these anchors? Another possibility is the anchors provide additional structural strength for increased spillway capacity.  Given recent flood events in 2015 which resulted in extended periods of operations where flood gates were operated, Ameren may have discovered a vulnerability.  There is also the possibility that the anchors installed in the 80s may have issues with corrosion, a common problem with post-tension anchors. Any time you sink metal into wet bedrock, corrosion is a primary concern and some dams with these structures have had issues.

Regardless of the motivation, the addition of the anchors will simply help insure the dam is around for a long time.  The work is expected to take 18 months with no disruption to electrical generation, the impact on traffic flow however is unclear.

For those interested in the engineering details of all this, here's a link.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Where Are All the Sailboats?

Why are there not more sailboats on the Lake of the Ozarks? Believe it or not, in the early days of the lake, up until about the 1980s, sailboats were fairly common, but nowadays it's very rare to see a sailboat actually under sail on the lake. Why?

Thursday, February 02, 2017

January 2017 Lake Levels and Flow Rates

At the beginning of the year it looked as if Ameren was going to get a jump start on the annual drawdown of the lake, but little precipitation and low energy production allowed lake levels to creep back up toward the moving average. It's interesting that energy production, as indicated by flow over 3,750cfs, ramped up just as lake levels reached the moving average of about 657.5ft.

Expect lake levels to continue to drop in February as the drawdown continues. Data indicates the low lake level for the year will be 654ft on February 28th. Let's see how close I get!

Point of No Return