“Kellogg for Coho” popular but still lacks full funding
By Anthony Roberts
Dam removals typically make waves in the Pacific Northwest. But most stories involve big dams blocking big fish along big rivers, like the dwindling chinook salmon runs along the Snake River.
That’s what makes an ongoing effort to remove a small dam on Kellogg Creek near its confluence with the Willamette River near downtown Milwaukie unique.
With the "Kellogg for Coho” project, a diverse group of agencies – including the city of Milwaukie, Oregon Department of Transportation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the local water and sewer provider, and the Army Corps of Engineers – hope to remove Kellogg Dam, and dig out small pools in the area to provide ideal fish habitat.
The plan also calls for replacing a bridge that runs over the dam to allow for easier crossing for pedestrians and cyclists between the city’s parks and downtown area.
But it won’t be easy – or cheap.
Rivers and creeks in the Kellogg Creek Watershed – about 16 square miles encompassing Kellogg and Mount Scott creeks – will never support larger, endangered spring chinook like those that run up the neighboring Clackamas River. However, wildlife biologists say, they will support coho salmon, along with steelhead and cutthroat trout.
"The upper part of the watershed in particular is in very good condition and there’s a lot of potential there,” says Chuck Willis, fisheries biologist with the Army Corps of Engineers. "Spring chinook are much too large for Kellogg, but they will use the mouth where the tributary enters the Willamette River as a sanctuary area, under high-flow conditions.”
The problem for the coho here isn’t the creek – it’s trying to enter and exit the creek along the Willamette.
Kellogg Dam is essentially a cement wall with an antiquated fish ladder that blocks all but the sturdiest fish from swimming into or out of the watershed.
The ladder "is not very functional,” Willis says. "It’s a pool-and-weir ladder that is very old. The nature of pool-and-weir ladders is that they operate well only within very restricted flow conditions. So whenever the flows are too low or too high, which is usually the case, they don’t work well.”
Dozen agencies involved Milwaukie Community Development Director Kenny Asher estimates that no fewer than a dozen agencies are involved in the preliminary planning phase of dam removal, each with a different interest. The city wants the area to be part of a waterfront park. ODOT is concerned because the dam structure fortifies a Highway 99 bridge over the creek. Residents around man-made Kellogg Lake, created by the dam, want to preserve their property values.
Then there’s the fish. "Obviously, these fish species cannot wait forever for us to get our act together on this,” says Asher, who’s spearheading the project.
He estimates the project’s cost at $10 million. For comparison’s sake, PGE spent $17 million to decommission the Bull Run Hydroelectric Project, an eight-year process that involved shutting down a power station and demolishing the Marmot Dam on the Sandy River, the largest dam ever removed in Oregon.
"Most of these things don’t occur in urban areas, so we’re dealing with a whole host of issues that wouldn’t necessarily come up with other projects,” Asher says. "Coordination is going to be a tremendous challenge because there are so many agencies that have so many areas of overlapping responsibility.”
Asher hopes to collect money for the project through a patchwork of local, regional and federal sources. Federal partners have contributed $1.2 million, with the city pitching in another $100,000. But $10 million to remove a small dam is a tough sell in a down economy.
Pat Russell, president of the North Clackamas Citizens Association, has been one of the most vocal advocates for the dam’s removal. He applauds the effort and the apparent willingness of so many different agencies and jurisdictions, but is concerned that a $10 million project might be asking too much right now.
"If we can’t spend $10 million, can we spend $500,000 to fix what’s underneath that bridge?” he wonders. Russell questions whether the dam could be removed without tearing down the bridge, or if those structures are too interconnected to allow that. An ODOT representative says he’s not sure if that’s feasible.
Project noncontroversial If officials overcome the financial obstacles, they’ll enjoy widespread support for the project, Asher says. And that, he believes, is unique for an environmental-restoration project, which usually comes about through mitigation, such as when a developer is destroying habitat for a project and is required to improve conditions elsewhere.
"With most development projects, you’re looking at how to protect the environment the best we can while still allowing development,” he says. "In this case, we’re saying, ‘How do we do as much as we can forthe environment and allow that to facilitate additional development?’”
City leaders also want to see better pedestrian and cycling access on the bridge above. Many residents near the lake are excited at the prospect of a free-flowing creek replacing a silt-filled lake that can become stagnant in the summer months.
A host of community groups has been participating in restoration work along the stream for years. On Tuesdays, members of Milwaukie Presbyterian Church, which is located along the lake, rip out invasive plants along the water’s edge. A local conservation group called the Tsunami Crew performs a cleanup in the area every week, replacing invasive plants with native plants, building a buffer along the banks of Kellogg and Mount Scott creeks, and pulling debris out of the water – all steps that will ensure healthy habitat when the dam finally falls.
Often, the volunteers’ work is supported by Water Environment Services, the local water and sewer district. Surveys show district residents want to make watershed health a priority, says Bob Storer, district environmental policy specialist.
"We’re retooling away from a utility-based approach into an integrated watershed management approach, a bigger holistic watershed approach,” Storer says.
Creating a vibrant Kellogg Creek watershed benefits the entire area, he says.
"For me, it’s really about sustainability and quality of life. There’s so many good qualities and benefits that the streams have,” he says. "We believe that the resource is worth protecting.”