Condit Dam removal complete

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

Published:

 
Former Condit Dam site

Demolition crews have removed the last of Condit Dam from the White Salmon River, a PacifiCorp official confirmed Saturday.

The announcement is a milestone for the removal that began with a blast of dynamite last year. It also narrowly meets a Sept. 15 deadline for in-water work to be finished. But it doesn’t lift access restrictions on the newly freed White Salmon River, according to PacifiCorp spokesman Tom Gauntt — not yet. Even though the dam itself is gone, crews are still working near the river and haven’t given the green light for recreation. The White Salmon remains open upstream of Northwestern Lake Park.

Crews had been hammering away at the 125-foot-tall structure in earnest since spring, methodically removing about 35,000 cubic yards of concrete. Workers under lead contractor JR Merit maintained a steady clip as machines worked their way down from the top of the structure. But when they reached the bottom of the dam — squeezed between a narrow rock channel at the river’s bed — work slowed and became more complicated.

PacifiCorp, which owns the dam and the land that surrounds it, asked federal regulators to extend their in-water deadline from Aug. 31 to Sept. 15. Crews used a handful of small explosive blasts to help break up the last section.

Plenty of observers have watched the process closely, from rafting enthusiasts to wildlife officials to regional tribal leaders. It’s been fascinating to watch, said Susan Hollingsworth, a local rafting instructor.

“It’s just incredible that a massive piece of concrete that blocked so much pressure and so much from a natural force is now gone,” Hollingsworth said last week, as in-water work wound down.

PacifiCorp decided to remove the hydroelectric facility rather than install costly fish passage upgrades. The decision came only after years of uncertainty and legal wrangling. Earlier this year, project coordinator Todd Olson estimated the removal cost at $37 million.

River unchained

A demolition crew breached the dam in October with a carefully orchestrated blast of 700 pounds of dynamite. The explosion released a free-flowing White Salmon River for the first time in nearly a century, and drained Northwestern Lake in barely an hour. The area soon saw rapid change as the river settled into its new path and started to churn out 100 years’ worth of sediment built up behind the dam. Erosion threatened some cabins on the shores of the former lake.

The area’s evolution hasn’t finished yet. Wildlife officials spotted migrating adult steelhead in July, jumping well upstream of Condit Dam — a sight not seen in nearly a century. Many people are hoping the dam’s removal will restore fish runs on the White Salmon River, which feeds into the Columbia River at the Skamania-Klickitat county line near the town of White Salmon.

“It’s really pretty incredible to see it all come back right before us,” Hollingsworth said.

Hollingsworth is helping coordinate a gathering to celebrate the river and its evolution this month. The event aims to gather a variety of voices who have an interest in the river’s future, she said.

“We all wanted this to happen,” she said. “We might have different ideas of what’s going to happen next.”

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com.