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Economic and dam related articles

Utility Plans to Remove Condit Dam

by Jonathan Brinckman, The Oregonian, September 23, 1999

PacifiCorp sets the removal for 2006 to help salmon,
drawing praise from breaching supporters and outrage from cabin owners

PacifiCorp announced Wednesday it would remove Condit Dam on the White Salmon River in seven years, saying that would be cheaper than building fish ladders to aid salmon and steelhead trout blocked from the upper river since 1913.

The decision drew quick praise from national conservationist group officials and from Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. It comes as the federal government considers removing four much larger federal dams on the lower Snake River in Washington.

"This adds one more piece of very strong evidence that dam removal can be the best action," said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers, a conservation group based in Washington, D.C. The group is lobbying for breaching the Snake River dams to help restore endangered and threatened salmon runs.

Babbitt said PacifiCorp's agreement to remove its dam should be a model for future decisions about other dams and illustrates that it will be possible to save Pacific salmon from extinction.

"Some say it's too hard, too late, too expensive," Babbitt said. "But through our collective will, Condit Dam, on this day, has become the Northwest's epicenter of hope."

People who own cabins around Northwestern Lake, the reservoir created by Condit Dam, reacted to the announcement with outrage.

"This is the wrong decision, and it needs to be revisited," said Laurel Lease, who with her husband, Wayne, built a home overlooking the teal-blue lake in Southwest Washington. "This day will go in the annals of environmental history as the day when environmental groups sold out the interests of the environment they were charged to protect, to put a political notch on their gun."

About 50 cabins ring the lake on land leased from PacifiCorp. The 2-mile-long reservoir is a popular spot for trout-fishing and boating.

The agreement to take out the dam comes after almost two years of negotiations between the Portland-based electric utility, the Yakama Nation, conservation groups, and state and federal regulators. It calls for the dam to be removed in 2006 and caps the cost at $17.2 million. That includes $13.7 million for dam removal, $2 million for permits and mitigation and $1 million for the Yakama Fishery Enhancement Fund.

PacifiCorp officials said that removing the Condit Dam makes economic sense because it would be far less expensive then installing fish ladders, which would cost an estimated $30 million. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said in 1996 that it would not renew the utility's operating license for the dam unless it installed the ladders and made other improvements to aid fish passage.

The dam generates about 9 megawatts of electric power, enough to power about 13,000 homes but only a small fraction of the 8,600 megawatts PacifiCorp generates.

"It's the right thing to do," said Tom Imeson, who announced the agreement at the Portland Hilton with leaders of the Yakama tribe, conservation groups, and state and federal regulators. "It reduces uncertainty for the company, avoids protracted, costly litigation and, through continued operations for a period of seven years, helps offset dam removal costs."

But the company considers removing dams "the exception, not the rule," Imeson said.

The dam removal method the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission originally proposed would cost about $50 million because sediment that has accumulated behind the structure would have to be removed and trucked away. But a coalition of 13 conservation groups, represented by the Northwest office of American Rivers, and the Yakama tribe proposed a lower-cost alternative: blasting a hole in the dam and allowing sediments to be swept downriver.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission still must approve the agreement.

Tribal leaders said they would be thrilled to have the White Salmon River restored to conditions before the dam was built. Removing the dam would open about 20 miles of the river to salmon and steelhead.

They said that removing Condit Dam also will speed breaching of the four Snake River dams. Northwest tribes with treaty rights to Columbia River salmon support breaching those dams.

"This agreement is a model in my mind," said Don Sampson, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which represents four tribes with salmon treaty rights. "They looked at leaving it in. They looked at taking it out. They decided to take it out. That's what needs to happen in the Snake River."

Although cabin owners around Northwestern Lake and some conservationists in the White Salmon area oppose removing the dam, other local conservationists said they support the action.

Jonathan Brinckman
Utility Plans to Remove Condit Dam
The Oregonian, September 23, 1999

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