Cabin owners tepid on well settlement offer

PacifiCorp's proposal follows breach of Condit Dam

By Eric Florip, Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter



A settlement offer to help pay for wells left high and dry by last fall’s Condit Dam breaching appears to be getting a cool response from cabin owners at the former Northwestern Lake.

PacifiCorp earlier this month sent a proposed agreement to dozens of cabin owners. In it, the Portland-based utility offered to pay up to $5,500 to help cover work on wells affected by dropping water tables since the lake drained.

But that’s not enough to cover some owners’ costs, said David Johnson, a board member of Cabin Owners Northwestern Lake Association. He said work on a well that connects to several cabins has already run up a tab of $16,000 as owners drill deeper looking for water. The association believes PacifiCorp should cover the entire cost, he said.

Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that conditions have changed rapidly since Northwestern Lake disappeared with the breaching of the dam in October. That figures to continue this winter as the White Salmon River carves its new path.

“The problem is, the river is still moving,” said Johnson, who owns a cabin there but lives in Washougal.

“You don’t know what it’s going to look like six months from now,” he said.

Johnson said he didn’t believe anyone in the cabin owners’ association had accepted PacifiCorp’s offer. They have until the end of 2012 to do so.

On Dec. 21, cabin owners sent a letter to PacifiCorp saying they believe the utility is “100 (percent) liable for all property damages incurred due to removal of the lake.”

PacifiCorp, which owns the land around the former reservoir and leases 53 cabin sites near Condit Dam, disagrees. Spokesman Paul Vogel said the company put together its settlement offer after researching cost ranges, and doesn’t expect it to change.

“This is a pretty fair and decent offer, above and beyond what we’re legally required to do,” Vogel said.

PacifiCorp will likely send a formal response to cabin owners’ letter this week, he said.

PacifiCorp breached Condit Dam with a blast of dynamite on Oct. 26 after deciding not to make costly fish passage upgrades. Crews will begin dismantling the dam next spring. The blast — and subsequent rush of water and sediment — drained Northwestern Lake in about an hour, leaving behind a vast canyon of mud. Cabin owners soon found their wells had dried up.

One well that serves seven cabins reached down 140 feet and pumped to 105 feet before the breaching, Johnson said. Cabin owners had to drill down to 200 feet, and pump to 175 feet, to get the well functioning at slightly less volume after the lake drained, Johnson said.

PacifiCorp’s proposed settlement agreement would cover all costs up to $3,000, then 50 percent of costs that exceed $5,000 — for a total payment not to exceed $5,500. In the case of a well serving multiple cabins, it would only qualify for one payment, Vogel said.

Not all cabins near the dam draw their water from wells. Some are connected to the nearby city of White Salmon.

PacifiCorp officials have said the impact to wells was considered before the breaching. Vogel said the company hopes the proposed agreement will work.

“We made an offer of assistance,” Vogel said. “We’re trying to make things right.”

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541;;