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Dam removal wins vote

by Steve Kadel, H&N  September 26, 2006

CHILOQUIN - The Chiloquin dam's days are numbered.

Members of the Modoc Point Irrigation District voted to remove the structure, which blocks passage of endangered Lost River and short-nosed suckers up the Sprague River.

The membership vote included 63 “yes” ballots, authorizing removal, and 23 “no” ballots. Eighty-six of a possible 102 ballots were cast, with 53 of 67 landowners taking part in the election.

Ballots were due Friday, and irrigation district officials met Monday night to ratify the vote.

The vote means the U.S. Department of the Interior will pay for removal of the 92-year-old dam. The agency also will pay to install a new pumping station, and will give the district a $2.4-million mitigation fund.

That fund will be invested, with interest used to pay for operation and maintenance of the pump station.

Irrigation district board member Pete Bourdet celebrated the vote tally.

"We're excited,” he said. “This is what we've worked for. I personally have spent the last two years working on this.”

Bourdet said proponents of dam removal were confident the vote would go their way, although he expressed relief that the issue has finally been decided.

John Richardson, a landowner and member of the irrigation district, said having federal funds to do the job was too good a chance to pass up.

“Why would you want to be driving a 1932 Ford if you could have a Cadillac?” he said. “I think it's time for the district to get into the 21st century.”

The irrigation district's secretary, Berniece Etchevers, agreed.

“It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to upgrade the facility,” she said.

BIA officials who studied the dam considered upgrading fish ladders to help endangered fish species. However, they decided removing the dam was the most efficient plan.

Modoc Point Irrigation District officials will meet with Bureau of Indian Affairs personnel Oct. 2 to formally sign a document authorizing the dam's removal. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., has estimated the cost of removing the dam and replacing it with a pump station on the Williamson River at $15 million to $16 million.

Under the federal timeline, construction of the new pump station will begin in April 2007. It is scheduled for completion in June 2008.

Federal officials have said the pump station must be tested and found to work adequately before the dam will be removed.


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