Floodplain revisions target Elk Creek Dam notching

As rainfall totals increased at the end of last week, the topics of flooding, FEMA and the Elk Creek Dam were on the minds of at least two local government agencies.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners sent a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency asking for revisions to the county's floodplain maps, while the Shady Cove City Council announced a new plan to bring the city into compliance with federal floodplain regulations.

The commissioners' letter, addressed to Susan Reinertson, FEMA regional administrator for District 10 in Bothell, Wash., said "Jackson County has concerns regarding flooding effects due to the notching of the (Elk Creek) dam."

The letter noted that "no map revisions have occurred for Elk Creek, Rogue River or Bear Creek since 1982," which was six years before Elk Creek Dam construction was stopped, by a court injunction, at one-third of its designed height.

In the letter, the commissioners also said they believe the current floodplain maps are incorrect and, before any dam notching begins, they asked FEMA to require the Army Corps of Engineers to update floodplain information for the county.

They also ask FEMA's assistance in updating flood insurance rate maps because of the Elk Creek Dam project.

Jim Buck, operations manager for the Corps of Engineers, said this is the third time the corps has proposed notching the dam as "the most cost-effective and biologically effective fish passage option."

Currently the Corps traps migrating fish and hauls them by truck around the dam and releases them upstream.

Announced two months ago, the current notching plan is scheduled to begin in March of next year and be completed in October.

While making a presentation about the dam to the Shady Cove City Council, Buck noted how the original objectives of the dam have changed.

"The initial plan in the 1970s was to do away with any fish runs at Elk Creek," said Buck. "That changed pretty quickly and when the coho salmon were listed as an endangered species in 1997, it meant we had to make sure the fish are not harmed."

Councilwoman Lois Holland said she remembered when the project was originally proposed and said she thought the emphasis then was on preventing floods and saving water for people and irrigation.

"I think people are more important than fish," she said.

Buck said she remembered correctly.

"Certainly in the 1960s and '70s that was true," he said. "Fish were in the background then, but today they're in the foreground."

Councilwoman Alison Curtis said she wondered why the federal government couldn't make up its mind.

"This was meant to be a flood control dam then, and now they don't even seem to care if we have a flood," she said. "Then, on the other hand, we have FEMA telling us we should be worrying about a flood. It just doesn't seem logical."

City Administrator Elise Smurzynski announced the city has signed a contract with Public Works Management. She said the company has an excellent rapport with FEMA and will assist the city in gaining compliance with floodplain regulations.

Shady Cove was put on FEMA probation nearly two months ago after FEMA determined the town had not made enough progress toward correcting previous floodplain violations. If corrections are not eventually made, FEMA could impose suspension, meaning homeowners would not be able to buy flood insurance. Several private properties are out of compliance and, according to FEMA, would pose severe hazards should there be a flood.

According to the December Federal Register, by the end of last week, FEMA expected to suspend 23 cities and counties across the country, six of them in Oregon.

"Our role is to support the city administration," said Joe Strahl, PWM president. "We will be helping develop the letters and action plans along with documentation and tracking, and we will be communicating with FEMA for the city."

The council and representatives of PWN will discuss flood insurance issues with the public at a meeting at 1:30 p.m., Jan. 17 in the Grange Hall, 145 Chaparral.

Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com

Share This Story