$5 million made available for taking out Gold Ray Dam

$5 million made available for taking out Gold Ray Dam

By Paul Fattig

Mail Tribune
July 01, 2009

The federal stimulus money has to be used by December 2010, even though Jackson County hasn’t decided the dam’s fate yet

Uncle Sam has unleashed $5 million in federal stimulus funds to remove 105-year-old Gold Ray Dam on the Rogue River.

Removing the defunct hydroelectric facility would open up more than 333 miles of the Rogue and its tributaries to steelhead and salmon, including endangered coho salmon.

Jackson County, owner of the facility, which closed in 1972, had requested the dam-removal funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It was one of 50 coastal and marine habitat-restoration projects totaling $167 million announced Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration out of a pool of 814 proposals submitted nationwide.

Removal of the 38-foot-high, 360-foot-long dam built in 1904 just upstream from Gold Hill would employ 54 people at different times throughout the 18-month period provided under the funding program, according to county officials.

“This grant offers an incredible opportunity for Jackson County to bring jobs to our local economy, address long-standing liability and public-safety concerns and provide better river access and more recreational opportunities for boating, fishing and hiking,” said Jackson County Commissioner Dave Gilmour.

The project met the “shovel-ready” requirement in the recovery act, which would put people to work and be completed within a year and a half.

If studies demonstrate removal of the dam would be both environmentally sound and in the public’s best interest, the dam could be removed by the December 2010 deadline required to spend the stimulus funds, said John Vial, director of the county roads and parks department.

However, the county has yet to make a decision on the fate of the dam, he cautioned.

“The environmental process will provide an opportunity for the public to have an input,” he said. “There are a lot of feelings about this dam. From the county’s perspective, it doesn’t provide flood control, generate power or irrigation water. It’s kind of a relic from the past that is a known fish problem.

“But there are some issues out there we have to have a better understanding of before making any decision,” Vial added, citing the upstream sediment directly behind the dam as one major concern.

The federal funds will pay for the environmental studies which will look at everything from pollutants in the sediment to wetlands created by the dam, he said. An analysis of sediment core samples already has been launched, paid for by an earlier grant, he said.

“If the studies show there are gigantic problems with removal of the dam, the county may not support it,” Vial said.

The environmental study likely will take no longer than six months, he said, noting that environmental-consulting firms will be alerted about the time frame.

“It’s a tight schedule but I’m confident it can be done,” he said of the entire project.

So is Eagle Point resident Bob Hunter, a member of a county subcommittee that has been studying the dam. He also is the staff attorney for WaterWatch, a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting Oregon streams and rivers and their fisheries.

With the removal of Gold Ray Dam, the Rogue would flow unimpeded for more than 150 miles from Lost Creek Dam to the Pacific Ocean, he said.

“This is really great news — Gold Ray Dam is a serious impediment to fish passage,” he said, adding it is ranked fifth statewide as a major fish-passage problem by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department.

Both U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, have expressed support for the local stimulus-package project.

For further information on funded projects nationwide, go to the NOAA Recovery Act Web site at www.noaa.gov/recovery.