Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board will award $1 million if environmental studies show best outcome for dam is to remove it
By Mark Freeman
GOLD HILL — Jackson County is on the cusp of securing the final cash to remove Gold Ray Dam from the Rogue River next summer, should ongoing environmental studies conclude it’s the best outcome for the 105-year-old structure.
The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board is poised next month to award a $1 million grant that will fund the final pieces of dam removal as well as beef up ongoing environmental studies and cover any unexpected costs for the project.
Slayden Construction Group has a $5.5 million contract to do the environmental analysis and dam demolition by next fall, but so far only a $5 million federal stimulus grant has been funneled toward that work.
Should it be awarded, the OWEB grant will fund the final $500,000 of the Slayden contract, said John Vial, the county’s roads and parks director, who is overseeing the project.
An additional $75,000 to $100,000 will go toward studying whether the dam could be refurbished, have its antiquated fish ladder replaced and restore its hydroelectric power-generation capabilities, which were abandoned when Pacific Power deeded the structure to the county in 1972, Vial said.
Based on a 1982 study and refurbishing costs at a similar project in Lane County, Jackson County officials have estimated that refurbishing and restoring hydroelectric generation would cost at least $50 million and require a change in state law banning new hydropower projects on that stretch of the Rogue.
But some members of the public this fall criticized the county for not studying that option in detail and developing better estimates. “Frankly, that was a valid criticism,” Vial said. “We hadn’t done that.”
So the possibility of dam restoration has been added as an option to the dam-removal option and keeping the dam unchanged as options studied in the ongoing environmental assessment required by federal law, Vial said.
The roughly $400,000 left over from the OWEB grant would be earmarked for any future costs that have yet to come to light, Vial said.
“We know they’re going to come up because contingencies always come up in (projects) like this,” Vial said.
County officials, who worry over liability of the aged dam and its fish ladder, have maintained that they will not decide the dam’s fate until the environmental analysis is completed.
OWEB is scheduled to consider the Gold Ray Dam grant at its meeting Jan. 20-21 in Coos Bay, OWEB spokeswoman Carolyn Devine said.
The money would come from the board’s pool of Oregon Lottery profits, Devine said. OWEB staff will work with the county to refine the budget for spending the $1 million, should it be awarded, Devine said.
The grant has not been approved yet, but it has garnered support among OWEB staff, she said.
OWEB has a history of approving funding grants with similar support within the agency.
To date, OWEB has been a major player in funding three dam-removal projects that collectively will make the Rogue a free-flowing stream over its lower 157 miles for the first time since 1904.
OWEB gave the federal Bureau of Reclamation $3 million in lottery funds toward this year’s removal of Savage Rapids Dam from the Rogue as well as an additional $25,263 toward revegetating upstream banks, records show.
OWEB also granted more than $1 million for removal of the Gold Hill diversion dam in 2007 and restoration work there, according to OWEB records.
OWEB already has given almost $86,000 of federal money for a sediment study and technical assistance done in early stages of the Gold Ray Dam project, records show.
Reach Mark Freeman at 776-4470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.