Judge stops Gold Ray Dam work

A federal judge on Monday temporarily halted preparation work for the removal of Gold Ray Dam from the Rogue River while he considers whether Jackson County has violated the civil rights of dam supporters by proceeding with work before their land-use objections are settled.

In response to what county officials called a "frivolous" lawsuit, U.S. District Court Judge Owen Panner on Monday afternoon issued a temporary restraining order halting all work on the dam-removal project while he considers the new federal civil suit against the county.

The suit alleges that the county has begun work without all the required permits — which the county has repeatedly denied — and that dam supporters' civil rights have been violated in their appeal of the final permit needed for the dam's demolition.

The order will remain in effect until Monday afternoon, when Panner will hear arguments from the county and dam supporters on whether a preliminary injunction against all work on removing the 106-year-old dam should be issued.

The plaintiffs had asked for a Friday hearing on a preliminary injunction but did not expect Panner's Monday afternoon ruling.

"It's a very pleasant surprise," said Grants Pass attorney Jack Swift, who filed the case Friday in U.S. District Court in Medford.

The suit was filed Friday on behalf of the same four people who have appealed the county's floodplain permit — the final permit needed for removing the last concrete impediment from just below Lost Creek dam to the Pacific Ocean, which would create 157 miles of free-flowing Rogue.

They also filed an earlier appeal that halted work for a time on the temporary coffer dams needed to complete the dam's removal, but their claim was later dismissed..

Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan called the lawsuit "frivolous" and done to jeopardize the county's $5 million federal stimulus grant that is largely funding the $5.6 million project to remove what county officials call a legal and financial liability.

The grant must be spent by the end of October or it reverts to the federal government.

"They keep going around saying we're breaking the law and every agency says we've complied with the law," Jordan said Monday.

"It's costing hundreds of thousands of dollars and potentially millions," Jordan said.

If the lawsuit causes the county to lose the federal grant, Jordan said, the county likely will move forward and pay for the dam's removal with its own funds because it would be cheaper than repairing the dam and rebuilding its fish ladder that does not now meet state or federal standards.

Federal law allows the county to seek recovery of its legal costs, which potentially could lead to financial damages against the plaintiffs should the county prevail in court, Jordan said.

"We'll seek recovery of costs as the law allows," Jordan said.

The suit was filed on behalf of Charles Boyer of Eagle Point, Dalton Straus of Sams Valley and Angela and Randall Schock, who live immediately upstream of the dam's south end.

The plaintiffs also ask for "nominal" financial damages as well as punitive damages in the case.

The suit alleges that those opposed to the dam's removal did not receive due process under the law because the county hearings officer considering their appeal of a floodplain permit was hired and paid by the county. The suit alleges that constitutes bias against dam supporters in violation of the 14th Amendment.

The suit also claims that the partial destruction of the dam's downstream powerhouse July 7 was intentionally done to render moot their ongoing argument that the county improperly failed to seek listing of the powerhouse on the National Register of Historic Places.

Without a court-ordered injunction, the county "will be able to destroy everything that is being contested and render the whole dispute moot," the suit states. "Once the targets for demolition are gone, they cannot be replaced."

The suit also claims the county has proceeded with demolition plans without necessary permits, including the county floodplain permit whose appeal has yet to be settled.

"We think it adds up to a violation of civil rights," Swift said Monday.

Jordan said Monday that the county has every permit needed for the work done so far. The now-appealed floodplain permit is needed for actual removal of the dam, work which has not begun, Jordan said.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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