Budget boosts Savage Rapids work

Budget boosts Savage Rapids work

By Mark Freeman
Mail Tribune
February 07, 2007

President Bush’s proposed $2.9 trillion budget for next year includes $15 million toward completing a pumping plant that will lead to the removal of Savage Rapids Dam from the Rogue River by 2010.

The money is proposed as part of the federal Bureau of Reclamation budget for the 2008 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, said Bob Hamilton, the bureau’s Savage Rapids Dam project leader in Boise, Idaho.

If adopted, the money would allow the long-awaited pumping plant to be functional by April 2010, replacing the 86-year-old dam and removing the single largest impediment to Rogue wild salmon and steelhead runs.

“This should push the project to the brink of completion, if not over the top,” said WaterWatch attorney Bob Hunter, who has worked for more than a decade to get the dam removed.

Hunter said he believes the project should be immune to what could become a hotly debated budget proposal, which immediately drew attacks from Democrats when it was unveiled Monday.

The fact that the project has progressed as far as it has with bipartisan legislative support should keep it safely in the bureau’s budget, Hunter said.

“I think we’re in as good a shape as we can be,” Hunter said.

The budget unveiling comes as construction crews prepare to pour the first concrete for the foundation of the pumping plant that is at the heart of the dam-removal project.

Salem-based Slayden Construction Group, which has the $28 million contract on the project, already has excavated a 23-foot-deep hole where the pumping plant will be built just downstream from the dam’s south side.

Crews are several months ahead of schedule because they were able to build a coffer dam last October to keep the pumping-plant area dry and open for work throughout the winter.

“We’re hoping to get that thing up and online early,” said Darren Funk, Slayden’s project manager at the dam. “That’s the goal.”

Once completed, the plant will pump up to 150 cubic feet per second of Rogue water for the Grants Pass Irrigation District, whose 9,000 patrons are fed irrigation water by the dam.

For decades, the dam’s antiquated fish ladders have drawn intense scrutiny for their role in harming the Rogue’s ability to produce more wild salmon and steelhead.

Government studies show that removing the dam and installing the pumps provides a long-term solution to the current dam’s fish-passage problems while keeping GPID in the irrigation business.

The bureau recently completed an environmental study that backed a 1995 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study that pointed to dam removal as the best and cheapest alternative for solving the dam’s fish-passage and water-delivery issues.

The bureau’s design also calls for a single large pumping station along the river’s south bank. A large electronic substation will be built to carry the power necessary to run the nine pumps within the enclosed station.

Bush delivered his proposed budget Monday to Congress, which must adopt a version that includes the Savage Rapids Dam money for Bush to sign in order for it to become law.

This year’s budget contains $13 million toward the building of the pumping plant and water intake system.

The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board has pledged $3 million toward the removal phase. The rest will rely on Congress over the ensuing budget cycles, Hamilton said.

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