End of a controversial dam
Explosives launch a $7.9 million project to notch Elk Creek Dam for salmon recovery
TRAIL — The crack of explosives Tuesday sent waves of concrete crumbling and launched a plume of dust skyward, signaling the beginning of the end to Elk Creek Dam.
Construction crews detonated the first set of explosives at 1:35 p.m. as part of a $7.9 million effort to notch the half-built dam spanning Elk Creek, a major upper Rogue River salmon-spawning tributary.
The plume slowly drifted upstream as a small group of witnesses oohed and aahed at the historical charge that will mark the end of a contentious community battle over the future of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers facility whose construction was stopped by lawsuits in 1986.
Whether people viewed it as a flood-control and water-storage opportunity wasted or a fish-killing boondoggle, those perched at a viewing area near the dam said they came for the spectacle.
“I just wanted to see the pyrotechnical display,” said Bernie Hukill of Eagle Point, who said he did not support the dam’s completion. “Put it in, and then blow it up. What a waste of money.”
Jim Brewer, who lives far upstream along Elk Creek Road, said he wanted to see the dam completed and operated along with Lost Creek and Applegate dams as originally envisioned.
“I came because I wanted to see them waste money,” Brewer said. “They shouldn’t have blown it up. They should have finished it.”
Both Brewer and Hukill used the word “boondoggle” to describe the dam’s history.
This first of 16 planned blasts over the next six weeks will carve a notch in the 83-foot-tall concrete span so Elk Creek — and the wild salmon that spawn here — can travel past it unimpeded.
In all, about 75,000 cubic yards of concrete will be removed and the original stream channel restored for natural migration of wild salmon, which have been trapped and trucked around the dam to upstream spawning habitat.
The blast went off precisely as scripted, munching a rectangle containing 2,836 cubic yards of concrete out of the structure’s northern end. The resulting pile of gravel exactly matched the “A-1” grid on the demolition chart.
“It’s about what we expected,” said George Miller, the Corps’ Elk Creek project manager. “The dust seemed to exaggerate it a little bit.”
The only change from plans is that the blasting crew, which did not want to leave explosives exposed any longer than necessary, tripped the explosion about a half-hour earlier than planned, Corps spokesman Scott Clemans said.
The next blast could be as early as this morning, Clemans said. The notching was scheduled to be completed by Sept. 15.
Until that time, the creek’s waters will be diverted through a pipe around the blasting area about three miles upstream of their confluence with the Rogue River about 25 miles north of Medford.
The Corps has considered the notch as the best and least expensive way to allow hands-off passage of wild salmon and steelhead to waters above the structure, whose completion was abandoned by the Corps a decade ago.
It also complies with federal Endangered Species Act requirements for the Rogue Basin’s threatened wild coho salmon.
Watching Tuesday’s work was WaterWatch attorney Bob Hunter, a Rogue Basin wild salmon advocate who called the blasting “really exciting.”
“It’s nice to see the end of a major threat to wild salmon in the Rogue Basin,” Hunter said. “It’s a good day for the Rogue.”