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Vandals go to extreme lengths to access tunnels under Teton Dam

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NEWDALE — Graffiti, littering and damaged signs have always been a problem at the old site of the Teton Dam, but now things are getting worse.

The dam burst and has been inoperative since June 5, 1976, but many of the outbuildings, dam structures and tunnels are still intact. Over the years, the Bureau of Reclamation has sealed off many of the areas at the dam site due to serious and potentially deadly safety concerns. Now some of these areas are being unsealed by vandals, and even promoted by some as “tourist attractions.”

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“What’s most concerning is that some of the barriers we’ve put in places at areas are being removed,” Bureau Upper Snake Field Office spokesman Ryan Newman said.

And these aren’t simple barriers. Large steel bars and grates are being cut open with tools. One of the most extreme examples is a 24-inch barrier of reinforced concrete someone chiseled through to get to the other side.

“People have gone to great expense to gain access to these areas, and those people are putting themselves in serious danger,” Newman said.

Partially concealed drops are a serious issue at the dam site. A 3,500-pound steel grate was recently removed. This exposed a hole that was 200 feet deep. Another grate was removed from a concrete intake funnel at what used to be the bottom of the reservoir. At the bottom of the 80-foot funnel is cold water — and there is no way to climb out of the funnel if you fall in.

Ventilation and air quality are also serious issues, Newman tells EastIdahoNews.com. Many of the tunnels are isolated, confined areas without any air flow. Pockets of gases have settled in some tunnels, and vandals spray painting makes the air quality even worse.

BOR employees are working to create new ways to keep people out of the area, but in the interim, they want to remind the public the Teton Dam site is closed to public entry and that it is dangerous.

Anyone found trespassing or vandalizing the Teton Dam site could be fined or arrested.

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