Gold Ray Dam removal bids hit right note

Gold Ray Dam removal bids hit right note

By Mark Freeman
Mail Tribune
September 14, 2009

Budgets, timetables on par with deadline to take out the structure


Five contractors have told Jackson County they can complete the necessary environmental assessments and remove Gold Ray Dam from the Rogue River within budget and in time to meet the county’s needs.

The companies have submitted bids with timetables that could lead to the dam being removed from the Rogue by the end of 2010. The deadline is required by provisions of a $5 million federal stimulus grant that would cover all or most of the costs.

The bids are not yet public documents, but county Administrator Danny Jordan said the bids’ projected costs ranged from a low of about $4.5 million to a high of close to $6 million.

“I was a bit stunned, frankly,” Jordan said. “I thought it would be millions more, and I thought they’d have a hard time meeting the deadline.

“It’s probably a good time to be putting out a project bid like this.”

The county owns the 105-year-old dam, which it took ownership of 37 years ago after an associated hydroelectric plant was decommissioned.

The dam’s lone fish ladder does not meet federal standards and the structure is considered one of the top 10 impediments to wild salmon in Oregon. County officials have expressed worry that they could be stuck with a big bill for fixing the dam or removing it themselves to protect wild coho salmon, which are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

In conjunction with the removal of Savage Rapids Dam near the city of Rogue River, the Gold Ray Dam project would re-open 157 miles of free-flowing Rogue to the sea for the first time since 1904.

Some support has surfaced this summer for the county to keep the dam and maintain the slack-water wetlands upstream that are home to myriad species, particularly waterfowl and other birds.

Through Wednesday, the Rogue Valley Council of Governments have tallied 216 public comments in favor of removing the dam and 34 against it, with almost half of those keep-the-dam comments coming at an Aug. 4 public meeting in White City.

Jordan said the county will continue to move forward “with caution” and that numerous environmental studies, public comments and property issues would be considered before any dam-removal was approved.

The bids, which closed Sept. 3, remain exempt from public disclosure so Jordan declined to discuss their specifics. He also declined to identify the bidders, whom he described as “reputable companies.”

Jordan said county officials next week plan to assemble a committee to review the specific bids and likely to negotiate with the various contractors on aspects of their bids before making a recommendation to the county Board of Commissioners.

“We’re still trying to get the best price for the public,” Jordan said.

Jordan said he expected the commissioners to award the contract by Oct. 1.

Should the final contract come in at more than $5 million, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board has indicated it would cover the difference. It is funded by Oregon State Lottery profits set aside for watershed-improvement projects.

An OWEB subcommittee has reviewed the project, which OWEB Deputy Director Ken Bierly called “a very significant and inportant state investment.”

“We feel it’s important to get the project funded, and we’ll work with the county to make sure all the costs are covered,” Bierly said.

Shady Cove property-rights advocate Roger King said he does not believe the county can get the studies and permits done in time to get the dam removed by the end of 2010.

King said he suspected some large tax-exempt organization that supports wetlands and wetland use might try scuttling the whole project by filing suit in court to demand more environmental studies that would cause the county to miss the grant’s deadline.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened,” King said.

The county’s bid package on the study, design and removal of the dam was structured so that the contractor would get paid in increments as the work is completed.

That way, if one of the steps in the process derails the dam-removal option, the project would be halted without the county being liable for the entire payment.

“If something comes up, we won’t be stuck with this bill,” Jordan said.

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