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Steve Kiesling

In the game

GOLD HILL — Steve Kiesling is discovering there is a reason no one has built an Olympic-style whitewater park — such as the one he envisions for the Rogue River — in a stream with wild salmon in it.

Kiesling was bloodied but still standing after meeting last week with regulatory agencies to discover how many hurdles he will have to clear before he gets permission to reshape part of the Rogue near Gold Hill for the course — including the removal of 300 cubic yards of streambed and the addition of features made from fake rock.

"We got beat up a bit, but everybody knows the Rogue River is an iconic river, and anytime you start talking about messing with it, it's a big deal," Kiesling says.

"But they're open-minded," Kiesling says. "They're not saying, 'No.' They're saying, 'Oh, OK. How do we think about this?' We're still in the game."

Kiesling pitched his project to a host of various state and federal regulatory agencies last Wednesday in what state government leaders call a "Kaizen," which is a business meeting various agencies hold monthly in Salem to help lay the groundwork for proposals in need of permitting.

Named for a Japanese term that translates into "continuous improvement," Kaizens provide a one-stop screening of the environmental regulatory process, which the Oregon Department of State Lands hosts for people proposing large or contentious projects in waterways, says Bill Ryan, DSL's assistant director.

"It gives the applicant input from all the players before they go through the permitting process," Ryan says.

Kiesling wants to alter an already dicey Muggers Alley near Ti'lomikh Falls to enhance its features, with big "surf" waves and flow patterns championed by kayakers, rafters and now even stand-up paddleboarders.

The Oregon Legislature in 2015 gave organizers $90,000 toward an engineering study needed to plan out and design how to transform the former Powerhouse Rapids stretch into a whitewater park and training center. Also, a $20,000 Oregon Community Foundation grant helped the group map the river bottom there last year.

"The state is taking it seriously, but that doesn't mean it's going to happen," Kiesling says.

In attendance at Wednesday's meeting in Salem were representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Department of State Lands, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Environmental Quality and the Oregon State Marine Board.

Kiesling learned, among other things, that he not only has to vet his proposal, he must also come up with alternative sites for the park. The project has been in the works for more than a decade, but there has been no formal permit proposal.

His group will have to do a velocity study for the Muggers Alley channel, have a plan to not damage riparian zones, and address potential impacts on migrating Rogue salmon, especially wild coho salmon because they are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Perhaps the biggest attention-grabber was Kiesling's proposal to rebuild Muggers Alley for safer rafting and kayaking, as well as to control the flow and create the obstacles that would create an Olympic-style water park that a SOREDI study estimates would generate $7 million in economic benefits.

Kiesling says that would call for redirecting the Rogue from Muggers Alley to de-water it so construction crews could remove about 300 cubic yards of rocks and sculpt the alley with a similar amount of strategically constructed "faux" rock.

"That's a huge thing," Kiesling says.

Some members of the regulatory agencies who heard Kiesling's pitch believe it was helpful to talk about issues and hurdles before the actual permit applications hit their desks.

"We all benefited," says Teena Monical, chief of the Corps' permit section in Oregon. "I think we had a good dialogue."

For Kiesling, he saw the proverbial rock get bigger and the hill he's pushing it up get that much steeper.

"It was a meeting that took a couple of beers to restore order," Kiesling says.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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