Elk Creek Dam supporters argue against the notch

Advocates for completing mothballed Elk Creek Dam took what could be their final jab at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday, using a Medford open house on notching the dam as a forum to seek its completion.

At an informational meeting about the Corps' long-term plans for passing wild salmon past the dam, advocates again pushed to finish the dam as originally envisioned for flood-control and water storage purposes.

"I guess there's one last fight in me," said Dick Bailey, who was Shady Cove's mayor during the 1997 New Year's Day flood that Bailey believes would have been curbed substantially had Elk Creek Dam been online. "A lot of people around here want to see that dam stay."

"I don't believe me being here will make any difference," Bailey said at Thursday's meeting. "But, when you've been fighting something so long, you can't give up on it."

About 50 people — including dam foe Andy Kerr of Ashland and former Jackson County Commissioner Ric Holt, Kerr's long-time counterpart — attended the meeting at the Red Lion Hotel in Medford.

Kerr headed the Oregon Natural Resources Council that was involved in a lawsuit that eventually banned the Corps from finishing the dam. He said Thursday that the notching plan is the right idea that came 20 years too late.

"One never gives up hope," Kerr said in an interview. "At this point, it's a good deal for the taxpayers, the salmon and the steelhead to notch this dam."

Holt said he believes dynamiting a section of the dam remains as ridiculous today as when first broached more than a decade ago.

"This is my one last hurrah, one last chance to put some sense into this thing," Holt said. "Blowing up a potential life-saving source of water for human beings is ludicrous."

Corps officials maintain that notching the dam is the best and least-expensive way to provide long-term fish-passage there, even if the notch were one day filled and the dam completed.

The agency also maintains that the drilling and blasting that would be done to notch the dam was not expected to harm the structure's integrity — a point repeatedly challenged by opponents.

The Corps has about $11 million pending in its 2008 budget to notch the dam and restore part of Elk Creek's streambed. If done, that would disband the 15-year-old program of trapping of fish at the dam's base and hauling them upstream to spawning grounds.

"We think we have the best technical solution and the most environmentally sound solution," George Miller, the Corps' project engineer, said in an interview.

"If there's any other information out there, more science out there, we'll look at it. We really need to move forward with a solution," he said.

Corps officials, however, were not taking oral public comments Thursday on the notch. Some people in the audience offered oral comments, but they were not recorded.

"It's not a hearing," Corps spokeswoman Amy Echols said before Thursday's open house. "It's an opportunity for people to come and listen, become informed and ask questions."

Written comments, however, were accepted at Thursday's meeting. Comments can be mailed to the Corps through Nov. 5.

Finishing the dam and impounding a lake as originally envisioned has been off the table since 1987, when the dam's construction was halted by lawsuits that forced the Corps to consider the cumulative effects of its dam — Lost Creek, Applegate and a completed Elk Creek Dam — on the Rogue's water quality.

To address that, the Corps came back in 1989 with an alternative to complete the dam but not impound a lake, leaving a hole in the dam's base so wild salmon and steelhead can swim through it unimpeded.

After continued resistance from environmental groups, the Corps decided in 1996 not to pursue the environmental studies needed to get a court injunction lifted. That injunction banning the dam's completion remains in place.

John Burgess of Shady Cove said he cannot understand how completing Elk Creek Dam ever became a bad idea to anyone.

"If this was a good idea 40 years ago, why isn't it a good idea today?" Burgess said.

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

Share This Story