Public opinion favors Gold Ray Dam removal

Public comments are running almost 20 to 1 in favor of a $5.6 million proposal to remove the 106-year-old Gold Ray Dam from the Rogue River.

Buoyed by an Ashland-based environmental group's postcard drive, 606 comments favoring removal of the dam had reached the Rogue Valley Council of Governments by Thursday. RVCOG is the agency collecting public comments on a draft environmental assessment of the dam's removal.

Of those comments, 343 were preprinted postcards distributed by the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, which wants Jackson County to jettison the decommissioned hydropower dam.

Thirty-four comments were against removal, including support for a $69.7 million option for restoring the dam, fitting it with a new fish ladder and restoring its hydropower capabilities.

Eighteen other comments were categorized as questions that did not fit either camp, said Pat Foley, who is collecting comments for the RVCOG on the county's draft environmental assessment.

Keeping the dam and adding a new fish ladder to meet state and federal requirements would cost about $16 million, County Administrator Danny Jordan said.

"From my perspective, the county's financial liability is the biggest issue," Jordan said.

The public comment period for the EA ends at 5 p.m. today. All comments that reach the RVCOG office in Central Point before the deadline will be added to the public record.

Jackson County has a $5.6 million contract with a construction firm to study the environmental effects of removing the dam and then to remove it should the studies point toward that option.

County commissioners have yet to decide the dam's fate, and they will receive the results of the environmental assessment when it is completed, Jordan said.

The county already has received a $5 million federal stimulus grant specifically for dam removal, and the dam would have to be removed by this fall to qualify for that money.

The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Program also has pledged $1 million toward the project.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is gathering public comments of its own while considering whether to issue a permit of its own that is needed for the project to begin.

The Corps' permit is required because the federal agency reviews and evaluates projects that fall under federal Clean Water Act guidelines, said agency spokeswoman Michelle Helms in Portland, where the review was taking place.

The Corps will collect public comments on its proposed permit through April 15, Helms said. The comments will be summarized, and any issues raised would be discussed with officials from NOAA-Fisheries, the official lead agency on the project, Helms said.

The Corps could ask for modifications to the dam removal proposal before issuing its permit, but no specifics have been discussed, Helms said.

"It depends upon what that public input is," Helms said.

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