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Anglers depend on the spring chinook and other salmon and steelhead raised at Cole Rivers Hatchery, whose operations are being put out for bid by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. [Mail Tribune / file photo]

Cole Rivers only Corps hatchery up for bid

The Rogue River Basin's Cole Rivers Hatchery will be the only Oregon hatchery — out of seven federally owned hatcheries in the state — to see its operations put out for competitive bid next week.

Federal officials have determined five others likely qualify to remain under state operation, while a sixth — Leaburg Hatchery in the Willamette Valley — will be shuttered and its trout production put out for public bid to be raised for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers elsewhere, according to the agency.

State-federal co-ownership of the five hatcheries in the Willamette Valley and North Coast mean they likely qualify for the Corps to sign contracts with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to continue running them to raise salmon, steelhead and trout as mitigation for wild fish habitat lost by the construction of Corps dams.

That leaves just Cole Rivers — and control of its almost 2.8 million salmon, steelhead and trout released annually throughout the Rogue Basin — to be up for competitive bidding by ODFW and private firms, including three companies that so far have expressed interest.

"Because it's a Corps-owned facility, it doesn't have the same kind of unique factors that co-owned hatcheries do," Corps spokeswoman Michelle Helms said.

Helms said the Corps likely will request bids on Cole Rivers operations next week, and the agency intends to award a contract by the end of April.

The Corps' current cooperative agreement for ODFW to run Cole Rivers expires June 30. Whatever entity wins the bid will take over July 1 with a one-year contract that includes the potential for two one-year extensions.

"The program itself isn't changing," Helms said. "It's the way we administer it. We're still dedicated to fulfilling our mitigation responsibilities."

Scott Patterson, ODFW's fish propagation program manager, said the agency "scoured" its records of running Cole Rivers since it opened in 1973 on Corps-owned property on the Rogue near Lost Creek dam for evidence it could qualify for the Corps' so-called "sole-source" contract with ODFW like the other hatcheries have.

ODFW owns equipment at Cole Rivers and provides personnel, but that's it, Patterson said.

"We just didn't find anything that suggests we have ownership down there," Patterson said. "We looked, and there really isn't."

Patterson said an outside entity that wrestles Cole Rivers operations away from ODFW would need an ODFW permit to release salmon and steelhead into state waters.

"I don't think anybody has one, so I don't think anybody in the world could bid on it," Patterson said.

Rogue angling groups and ODFW biologists have expressed concerns that a private outfit would not have the expertise to raise the salmon, steelhead and trout promised by the Corps to sport and commercial fishing interests as mitigation for building Lost Creek and Applegate dams here.

"I'm frustrated," Patterson said. "I'm sure everybody on the Rogue is."

Helms said regardless of who gets the Cole Rivers contract, the four Corps-owned residences there must be vacated and turned over to the federal government.

"That's all part of the transition process," Helms said.

The Corps last month announced that a review of its contracting rules concludes that it is more appropriate to run its mitigation hatcheries on a contract basis instead of cooperative agreements with ODFW.

The Corps' Portland District staff will ask its agency headquarters for permission to enter into contracts with ODFW to operate four of its hatcheries co-owned with the state. They are Marion Forks on the North Santiam River, McKenzie and Willamette hatcheries in the Willamette Valley and the South Santiam Hatchery on the South Santiam River.

Corps officials believe ODFW's ownership of a pollution-abatement pond at the Columbia River's Bonneville Hatchery qualifies it for a sole-source operations contract, but that case will be made independent of the others, Helms said.

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

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