County sets forums on fish passage plans

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will hold at least three public forums in coming months concerning how it will change operations at area dams in an attempt to increase native salmon runs as ordered by a federal court, Erik Petersen, operations project manager for the Willamette Valley and Rogue Basin projects told the Linn County Board of Commissioners Tuesday morning, Sept. 27.

Locally, those changes will affect water levels in both Foster and Green Peter reservoirs near Sweet Home and could also lead to reduced recreation, low land water intrusion and power generation issues as Green Peter’s turbines are out of the water during winter months.

The Corps is reacting to lawsuits concerning the Endangered Species Act.

Board Chairman Roger Nyquist told Petersen that government entities should take the needs of rural residents into their consideration of environmental issues. He pointed to the Oregon Supreme Court’s recent decision to not hear an appeal of a $1 billion class action lawsuit charging the Oregon Board of Forestry breached a long-term contract with counties about the management of more than 700,000 acres of timber lands that comprise the State Forest system.

Nyquist said he has never caught a salmon in either Foster or Green Peter reservoirs and said the federal injunction is similar to the Oregon Department of Forestry creating habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl and the owl not showing up.

In short, the Corps of Engineers will lower Green Peter Reservoir’s water level from its usual summer pool of about 1,010 feet (above sea level) to about 780 feet by December of each year. The drawdowns will begin in July, and by August the county’s Whitcomb Creek boat ramp will be unusable at water level 970 feet and Thistle Creek boat ramp will be out of water at 919 feet.

Commissioner Will Tucker asked Petersen if the Corps of Engineers would consider developing a low-water-level ramp access and Petersen said he would be happy to work with the county on such a proposal.

The goal of lowering the water level is to allow salmon to spawn upriver in the Middle Santiam and Quartzville Creek and the young fish pass through the dam’s water outlets en route to the ocean. Lowering the surface water level puts the outgoing smolt closer to the outlets. Research has shown it is difficult for the young fish to find the outlets if they are several hundred feet away at a higher surface level.

The water level in Foster will remain lower than usual until mid-May and then be brought up rapidly to the summer conservation pool by Memorial Day. A rapid drawdown will begin in September annually.

Lebanon resident Ron Edwards retired after working at the Foster and Green Peter dams for many years and encouraged the commissioners to be proactive in the likelihood that the loss of electrical power from Green Peter dam could cause blackouts in parts of the mid-valley.

Commissioner Nyquist said it was hard to imagine talking about power blackouts, comparing it to something that happens in “third world” countries, not the United States.

He said it is important that elected officials and the general public contact federal officials about these projects’ potential negative consequences.

In other business the commissioners:

♦ Approved an intergovernmental agreement with Greater Albany Public Schools for $149,558 in Federal Title I money. It is pass-through money that helps fund the county’s Transition Program Specialist, horticulturalist, Juvenile Detention Education Program classroom assistant, tutoring at the Albany House Shelter, a summer education program and transportation for the Shelter for Youth back to their community school. Commissioners Sprenger and Tucker approved the agreement. Chair Nyquist abstained since he also sits on the GAPS board of education.

♦ Approved a refund of $1,450 to Rock Hill Construction due to an environmental fee being paid twice.

♦ Were informed by Ryan Vogt of the Cascades West Council of Governments that the long-term wetlands study is nearing completion and findings should be available by mid-October. A childcare needs survey is also proceeding. Vogt said lack of affordable childcare is a “national crisis”. Chairman Nyquist said the government plays a role in the issue by creating more and more restrictions or regulations and then creating “unintended circumstances” including a declining pool of childcare staff members.

– Alex Paul, Linn County Communications Officer