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Return to Previous Page2010 breaching of Condit Dam not likely

Preparation, soliciting bids may not leave enough time to meet target date of October

Erik Robinson
The Columbian

Condit Dam is shown shortly before dam owner PacifiCorp agreed in 1999 to remove it rather than install expensive fish ladders. A decade hence, the dam continues to block the White Salmon River.

Owner PacifiCorp agreed in 1999 to remove Condit Dam on the White Salmon River, seen in September 2008, rather than install expensive fish ladders. It’s still there.

Preparation, soliciting bids may not leave enough time to meet target date of October

Condit Dam, which has blocked the White Salmon River since 1913, has been targeted for removal for more than a decade. It was first scheduled for removal in 2006.

It now appears that the 125-foot-tall concrete impoundment will stand for at least one more year.

The state Department of Ecology finalized its conclusion last month that the release of mercury-laden sediment behind the dam wouldn’t cause long-term harm to aquatic life. Ecology issued an amended environmental impact statement on Jan. 21, more than seven months after the agency released a draft version of the document.

PacifiCorp, the dam’s owner, is still awaiting two major Clean Water Act permits from the state and from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Finally, it will need a license surrender order from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

At that point, PacifiCorp spokesman Tom Gauntt said, the utility figures it will need about six months to adjust the demolition plan to any new requirements of the permits, solicit bids from contractors and prepare the site.

"You don’t just walk up there and pull the plug,” he said. "There’s a lot of prep work to do.”

In 1999, PacifiCorp reached an agreement with environmental groups, government agencies and the Yakama Nation to remove the dam. PacifiCorp estimates it will cost $28 million to remove the structure. The company opted for pulling the dam after balking at the even-higher cost of retrofitting it with fish ladders, which federal officials would have required with a renewed operating permit.

The dam can generate 14 megawatts of energy, which is a tiny blip compared to larger dams. For example, Bonneville Dam has a capacity of 1,100 megawatts — enough to energize a city the size of Seattle.

The utility wants to breach the dam in October, allowing preparations to occur in relatively dry weather. Workers plan to uncork the lake by drilling and blasting a 15-foot-diameter hole in the dam’s 85-foot-wide concrete base. Engineers expect it will take six hours to drain the 92-acre Northwestern Lake, followed closely by the onset of autumn rainfall to push sediment downstream.

Gauntt said that although the utility won’t be starting from scratch when it gets the permits — much of the engineering is already in place — the utility still needs plenty of time to finalize plans and hire contractors. He said regulators would need to give the OK by the end of March to meet the schedule for October of this year.

"It doesn’t seem very likely, (unless) all the stars aligned and all those permits came in one after the other,” he said.

Erik Robinson: 360-735-4551, or erik.robinson@columbian.com.

The Columbian
Vancouver, WA
February 9, 2010

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