GREENSPRINGS — If you want Uncle Sam to save Little Hyatt Lake, you may want to drive up to the dam on Saturday.
A local group called Save Little Hyatt Lake is manning a table near the dam to collect signatures asking the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to keep the 84-year-old structure. The BLM is considering removing it because of safety concerns over crumbling concrete.
"What better way to show (the) BLM how much we love this lake than to come on up, enjoy the natural beauty of the place and add your name to the petition," said group spokesman Ron Schaaf, a local resident.
"Don't forget to bring a picnic lunch and a fishing pole," he added.
BLM officials say they will decide next week whether to remove the dam or buttress the concrete structure with boulders.
Although dam supporters claim a decision already has been made to remove it, John Gerritsma, the BLM's field manager for the Ashland Resource Area, denied that accusation Thursday afternoon.
BLM officials last week had indicated they wanted to wait until the reservoir was drained before making a decision on its fate.
However, a siphoning project expected to begin a week ago has yet to start on the 11-acre reservoir behind the dam. It could take up to two weeks to drain the water, officials estimated.
"But we've determined we can't wait that long," Gerritsma said, noting any delay could put the work into the coming wet season. "I've got to make a decision before that. We'll have to go with the best available information."
He expects to make a decision next Wednesday.
"The issue is not whether or not we want to save the dam," he said. "We all want to save the dam."
The issue, he said, is how to make the dam safe. Evaluations of the dam by experts have concluded it poses a safety hazard, he said.
"Everybody who has looked at it who has expertise in dam safety say we have a problem," he said. "We've estimated the water released from the dam if it were to break would be 10 and 15 times more than a 100-year flood. The risk is unacceptable."
The Save Little Hyatt Lake group questions just how much of a threat the roughly 18-foot-high dam poses to the area.
"That dam has been leaking for at least 60 years," said local property owner Diarmuid McGuire. "The worst thing that would happen is the lake will drain. A catastrophic collapse is not likely here.
"They've made a mountain out of a molehill with their declaration of an emergency," he added later.
Those who want to preserve the dam say it has created a popular recreational attraction and an important wetland.
The group plans to give copies of the petitions to the BLM, Rep. Greg Walden and Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith.
The BLM considered breaching the dam in 1998, but at the urging of local residents conducted an environmental study and decided in 2003 to replace it.
But a safety inspection in July 2006 determined the dam had deteriorated to the point of becoming a safety concern.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Save Little Hyatt group gathers signatures