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Dam dilemma – Barrier in Scotts Mills Park remains

By James Day

The dam on Butte Creek in Scotts Mills Park just won’t go away. Literally.

While the presence of the dam on the creek has made the park popular with water enthusiasts, there is a gigantic breach in the barrier, and officials say the situation poses a safety issue and fish passage also is a concern.

A grant of $100,000 to remove the crumbling dam is in hand from the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, which along with the Pudding River Watershed Council says that more grant money is available. All parties agree that approximately two years of COVID-19 fueled stasis left the project in limbo. Now, it appears to be having trouble getting out of limbo.

Water rushes through the gigantic hole in the dam on Butte Creek in Scotts Mills Park. Grant money is in hand to pay for the dam’s removal, but no final decision has been made on the project. 
Water rushes through the gigantic hole in the dam on Butte Creek in Scotts Mills Park. Grant money is in hand to pay for the dam’s removal, but no final decision has been made on the project.

The City of Scotts Mills and the ODFW both want the dam removed. In fact the Scotts Mills city website includes a “dam removal” tab, which makes it clear where the town stands.

The Marion County Parks Commission, which advises the Board of Commissioners on park matters, discussed the issue at its Sept. 15 meeting but made no recommendation. At that session, representatives of the Pudding River Watershed Council on the Zoom broadcast also urged removal of the dam, while three community members testified in person advocating its retention.

The community members, who said they have signatures of 150 people backing their view, noted that one of the main reasons they chose to participate in the meeting was to make sure people knew removal “was not a done deal.”

Robin Fornier, a councilor and city manager of Scotts Mills, wishes it WAS a done deal.

“There are no funds for restoring the dam,” she said. “It’s either removal or do nothing and let it crumble. Our homeowners will have to deal with the rubble when it crumbles and heads downstream.

“And it’s a safety issue. One life lost is far too many and we’ve had more than one.”

“This has been a long, stretched-out thing,” said Dave Stewart, a fish habitat restoration biologist with the ODFW. “At ODFW we all support the project and will do what we can to move it along. We’ve removed dams all over the state and this is such an easy one.”

“Fixing the dam would be a multi-million dollar project,” said Kurt Berning of the Pudding River Watershed Council. “You would need a (fish passage) permit and you’re never going to get one. We’ve got money on the table for ODFW to get it removed, but we’re waiting on the commissioners. A breach of the dam is an accident waiting to happen and it’s a huge liability issue. It would cost far more to repair than to remove. I think it’s a matter of getting (the issue) back in front of the Board of Commissioners.”

Jon Heynen, a communications officer for the Board of Commissioners, told Our Town that “the issue still is under review at Public Works and no timetable/timeline is available regarding when the Board of Commissioners might render a decision.”

“The Scotts Mills City Council repeatedly has expressed approval for removal,” Fornier said. “But Marion County hasn’t asked us what we think. Our role should be to have a seat at the table.

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