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Vote to decide fate of dam

September 19, 2006 By STEVE KADEL H&N

CHILOQUIN - Modoc Point Irrigation District landowners will decide the fate of endangered suckers on the Sprague River this week.

District members are voting on whether to dismantle the Chiloquin Dam, which blocks passage of fish up the river. Ballots are due Friday, and results will be officially released Monday during a 7 p.m. meeting at the Crater Lake Real Estate office on Highway 97.

A cooperative agreement

If the vote favors dam removal, the district's board of directors will meet Oct. 2 to sign a cooperative agreement with Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The U.S. Department of Interior would pay to remove the dam and for costs of building a new pumping station along the Williamson River a quarter-mile upstream from the Williamson bridge. A pipeline would be built to carry water to the irrigation district's main canal.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., estimated the cost of removing the dam and replacing it with a pump station at $15 million to $16 million.

Mitigation fund

In addition, the U.S. Department of Interior would give $2.4 million to the irrigation district. Interest on that “mitigation fund” would pay all costs of operating, maintaining and repairing the new pump station.

The agreement comes after two years of federal study of options to help Sprague River suckers. A fish ladder was considered, but was rejected as being less effective than removing the 92-year-old dam.

The proposed agreement maintains the irrigation district's water rights. The district also is free of liability for any endangered species “taking” as long as the station is operated and maintained within its design specifications, according to the agreement.

District officials said removing the dam relieves them of “huge liability” of injury or death by people using it as a recreation site.

“The dam and its environs have been a recreation ‘hang-out' for the community of Chiloquin for four generations,” district officials said. “The structure was not intended to be a water slide, and all the efforts to secure the facility have failed.”

A year ago, irrigation district members voted to continue talks with the BIA over the dam's removal. The vote was 44-35 in favor of proceeding.

Landowner votes

Each landowner had one to three votes, based on the amount of land he or she owned. Forty-seven landowners, holding 79 votes, turned in ballots. Another 39, with 40 votes, did not.

Ballots were mailed to 68 landowners for the current election, district secretary Berniece Etchevers said. Collectively they have 103 votes.
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