In our view, Feb. 16: Another Dam Delay
Bureaucratic maneuvering extends life of Condit Dam at least one more year
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
At this rate, Condit Dam just might survive long enough to celebrate its centennial.
The 125-foot-tall concrete structure, which is located 65 miles east of Vancouver and has blocked the White Salmon River since 1913, apparently will stand for another year. Considering that the agreement for its removal was reached in 1999, and that it initially was scheduled for removal in 2006, we have reached the point of believing it when we see it.
The latest holdup is that PacifiCorp, which owns the facility, is awaiting two Clean Water Act permits, one from the Army Corps of Engineers and another from the state Department of Ecology. Once those are in place, a license surrender order from the Federal Energy Regulation Commission will need to be secured. After that, some final planning and the hiring of contractors must be completed.
According to a recent story in The Columbian, officials say that regulators would need to give the OK by the end of March in order to meet the schedule for the dam to be breached in October. “It doesn’t seem very likely, (unless) all the stars aligned and all those permits came in one after the other,” PacifiCorp spokesman Tom Gauntt told reporter Erik Robinson.
Hey, nobody said bureaucracy was speedy. On the other hand, the removal of Condit Dam will be worth the wait, a small but meaningful move that balances commerce and the environment.
Condit Dam can generate 14 megawatts of energy, which pales in comparison with, for example, Bonneville Dam and its 1,100-megawatt capacity. The initial agreement was arrived at when PacifiCorp, a private utility that operates as Pacific Power in Washington and Oregon, opted for removal rather than retrofitting the dam with fish ladders. That’s the kind of decision numerous companies and governments face these days. The balance between environmental concerns and the needs of the populace can be precarious, requiring deliberation rather than decisions driven by ideology.
In the case of Condit Dam, regardless of whether it is removed this year or next or later, the benefits of maintaining the facility would pale in comparison with the cost to native fish. By removing the structure, officials will open 32 miles of the White Salmon and its tributaries to fish habitat.
Call us romantics, but we believe the White Salmon River should actually be hospitable to its namesakes. In 2006, the National Marine Fisheries Service concluded that removal of the dam would greatly enhance conditions for threatened chinook salmon and steelhead runs. The process of preparing for the dam’s removal has been long and arduous. Of primary concern has been the concentration of naturally occurring mercury in the sediment behind the dam, and the fact that breaching the dam will degrade the habitat for some time.
Those are legitimate concerns, yet they are outweighed by long-term benefits, plus the opportunity to return a small piece of the Northwest to its natural state, to step backward in the name of progress. So it makes sense to speak out — again — in support of the removal of Condit Dam. This sounds like one fish tale that eventually will have a happy ending.