The beginning of the end

The beginning of the end

By Mark Freeman
Mail Tribune
October 07, 2006

The days are numbered for Savage Rapids Dam: the structure will likely be a footnote by Dec. 19, 2009

Construction crews are scheduled next week to begin the precursor work that eventually will lead to Savage Rapids Dam’s removal from the Rogue River.

Slayden Construction Group Inc. plans to haul an excavator on Monday from Salem to the area downstream of the dam, where the new pumping plant will supply Rogue water to Grants Pass Irrigation District patrons as early as 2008.

After a required safety meeting Wednesday with the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the company will begin work on the $28 million project as early as Thursday, Slayden President Todd Woodley said.

“The first piece of heavy machinery should be there Monday, so that’s when it starts officially,” Woodley said.

Plans were to have the pumping plant up and running so Slayden could remove the dam by late 2009, leaving the Rogue River more friendly to salmon and giving GPID a new and better water-delivery system than the 85-year-old dam, federal officials said.

“We’re making progress,” said Bob Hamilton, the Boise-based bureau project manager working on this dam’s removal proposals since 1988.

“When all is said and done, it will be good for everybody,” Hamilton said.

Initial work will be the construction of a temporary coffer dam to surround the pumping-plant area to keep it dry for work there, Woodley said. The four-foot-tall dam will be made of sandbags and form a semicircle around the plant’s construction zone, effectively keeping the Rogue out of the work zone when it swells during the winter.

Currently, the coffer dam site is about 75 feet from the Rogue’s bank, but the pumping plant site is within the Rogue’s 100-year floodplain.

To build the temporary dam by Halloween, Slayden received a one-month extension of the in-water work period.

“It’s a week’s worth of work, but it allows us the ability to work through the winter,” Woodley said.

Crews were expected to finish the 125-foot-by-25-foot pumping plant in time for testing next fall, Woodley said. Once operational, the plant 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.

A pipe bridge will be built to carry water from the plant on the south bank to canals on the north side.

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

WaterWatch attorney Bob Hunter, a longtime proponent of replacing the dam with pumps, said he hopes the plant can be built and tested before the 2008 irrigation season, possibly even moving dam-removal up a year.

“If they can move this along and you can test it and show that it works, there’s no reason they can’t start dam-removal work in 2008,” Hunter said.

If not, at least the current timetable “adds certainty that we’ll get the dam out in 2009,” Hunter said.

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.

Construction was possible because of $13 million in the current federal budget for 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 ensuing budget cycles, Hamilton said.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or

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