Savage Rapids Dam’s days are numbered

Savage Rapids Dam’s days are numbered

By Mark Freeman
Mail Tribune
August 10, 2006


A Salem-based construction firm with Rogue Valley crews received the first part of its $28 million federal contract Wednesday to remove Savage Rapids Dam.

The Bureau of Reclamation awarded the contract to Slayden Construction Group Inc. of Stayton to remove the dam by late 2009 to make the Rogue River more friendly to salmon. The company also will replace Grants Pass Irrigation District’s 85-year-old water-delivery system with new pumps.

After feuding through much of the 1990s about the merits of dam removal and the need for salmon protection, irrigators and salmon activists alike toasted Wednesday as a landmark moment.

“It’s kind of a relief that, after all these years, we’re able to see the top of the hill,” GPID Assistant Manager Julie Webster said Wednesday. “We’re really tickled finally to see it get this close.”

So, too, was WaterWatch attorney Bob Hunter, who was once vilified by GPID patrons for his years of working toward removing the dam.

“Even though it has a long, adversarial history, it finally got to a point where the parties began working well together,” Hunter said.

“It’s a great project for the river and a good project for GPID,” he said. “It secures their future.”

Even bureau officials expressed satisfaction on awarding the bid.

“This is a big day,” said Bob Hamilton, the bureau’s project manager in Boise, Idaho.

Slayden President Todd Woodley said his company plans to start work as early as late summer, with Rogue Valley-based crews doing much of the work.

Slayden has worked extensively in Southern Oregon, modifying water-treatment plants in Medford and Ashland and building a $12 million canal for the bureau near Klamath Falls, Woodley said.

“We’ve been following the prospect of this job for a couple years now,” Woodley said. “It’s the type of work we specialize in.”

Though Slayden crews have not removed a dam — “a total removal of a dam is a new thing in the West,” Woodley said — they have dam experience.

The 250-employee firm worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, Woodley said. In February it was awarded a bureau contract to remove Chiloquin Dam on the Williamson River, but that project has since been stalled over permits, he said.

The Web site Jobdango lists Slayden as one of the top 150 privately owned companies in Oregon.

The bureau on Thursday awarded Slayden the first of two contracts totaling $28 million for the project, Hamilton said. The final part will be awarded once an easement is settled, he said.

The first phase is to build a pumping plant that will deliver up to 150 cubic feet per second of water from the Rogue to GPID’s 9,000 patrons in the Grants Pass/Rogue River areas.

Then a pipe bridge will be built to carry water from the plant on the south bank to canals on the north side, according to the bureau.

Most of the dam then would be removed, with all the work scheduled to be done by Dec. 19, 2009.

GPID, state water resource officials, biologists and salmon advocates have worked to replace the aged dam since the 1980s, after a federal report determined it was the river’s single largest impediment to native salmon and steelhead.

The bureau recently completed an environmental study that backed a 1995 conclusion that dam removal was the best and cheapest alternative for solving fish-passage and water-delivery issues.

President Bush’s 2007 federal budget, now up before Congress, includes $13 million toward the project. The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board has pledged $3 million toward the removal phase. The rest would have to be funded through Congress over the following three federal budget cycles, Hamilton said.

The project’s final cost will be pushed up another $2 million to $3 million, primarily to cover the bureau’s on-site inspections of Slayden’s work and management of the project, Hamilton said.

“It’s to assure that, when we give the district the keys, they get the functional system they need,” Hamilton said.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail

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