Detroit dilemma: Preserving fish could mean a dry lake for a year or more

February, 2018 Posted in Community, Nature

detroit-kaneBy James Day

The Santiam Canyon and the Detroit Lake area are used to economic downturns. Timber industry job losses. Droughts. Wildfires. The cycles can be dizzying.

Now, the region is facing another economic challenge, this one required by the federal government.

A standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 people crammed the Gates Fire Station Community Room on Jan. 17 for a public meeting to hear about it.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers is attempting to find a way to preserve salmon and steelhead runs on the North Santiam River in a project that will cost upwards of $100 million and perhaps as much as $250 million.

The federally mandated project, which would aim to improve fish passage around Detroit Dam and modify water temperatures to improve fish health, also could produce a dry lake for one year and possibly two. No construction is likely until at least 2021.

A dry lake would have huge economic impacts throughout the Santiam Canyon area, which depends on summer recreation and tourism.

“I cannot conduct a business with no customers,” said Larry Loveberg, longtime owner of Kane’s Marina on the lake. Loveberg added that even without customers he still would be required to insure the business and pay for its upkeep. He also said that he is cutting back on possible upgrades to preserve capital.

“It’s kind of like farming,” he said. “When the crop comes in you have money in the bank and can spend it throughout the year. And if you have no crop you are in a bind. “I don’t believe the future of Detroit is going to be as bright as its past.”

Loveberg’s remarks drew applause from the crowd, which at times expressed frustration at the way the process has unfolded.

The Corps held two public meetings in December, one in Salem and one in Gates, that were attended by a total of 110 people, but many of those on hand Jan. 17 expressed concerns that they were just finding out about the issue.

In one communications gaffe Marion County Commissioner Kevin Cameron told the audience that Stayton city officials did not hear about the issue until mid-January.

Corps officials took the hit on that one: “We dropped the ball on Stayton,” said Dustin Bengtson, deputy operations project manager for the Willamette Project, which coordinates Corps interests in the 13 dams and reservoirs on the Willamette River and its tributaries.

Draining the lake also might affect the water supply and water quality in Salem and Stayton as well as the agricultural acreage that Cameron noted made Marion the largest agricultural producer in the state.

Project manager Jeff Ament took the audience through the history of the project, although his slides could be clearly seen only by those in the first few rows. “This is not a small project by any means,” Ament said.

Its key elements include improving fish passage, erecting a 250-foot tower that will remix the lake water to moderate the temperatures and building a fish collector barge the size of a football field.

Key questions that remain to be answered are whether to erect the tower in dry or wet conditions, with a higher lake level making the work riskier… and how many years the lake will be dry.

Audience members expressed frustration that Ament’s slides, and poster boards in the room that mirrored the slides, seemed to show dozens of alternatives.

Ament and Kelly Janes, who will be preparing the required environmental impact statement for the project, noted that some of the options on the list are not technically feasible.

“Then where is the list that we are supposed to comment on?” asked one audience member. “I don’t want to comment on something that has already been thrown out.”

Bengtson and Cameron encouraged audience members to make written comments to the Corps. Which makes sense since none of the Corps officials present appeared to be taking notes.

The original public comment period was scheduled to end Jan. 8, but the Corps extended it to Jan. 23, noting that the December meetings might have slipped below the radar because of the holidays.

Loveberg and other audience members also asked if the Corps would be threatened with lawsuits if they don’t build the project.

Bengtson replied that the Native Fish Society and two other groups have given notice of the intent to sue.

“Who is suing?” Loveberg said. “I’d like to see their faces here.” Bengston said that the other names are online.

“Online, online, online,” countered Loveberg. “They ought to be down here.”

The meeting opened with reports from various stakeholder groups. Janine Belleque of the Oregon Marine Board went first and was peppered with questions that were really intended for the Corps. Belleque noted that her group only was involved with recreational boating issues and that she will be charged with working to meet the comment period deadline… in the same manner as everyone else in the room.

“Don’t just talk about it here,” urged Cameron who owns property in the Detroit area and keeps his boat at Kane’s. “Whatever you comment… you have to write it down.”

Corps officials said more public outreach will take place once a preferred approach has been finalized and the environmental impact statement has been completed.

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.