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County wants dam hearing

County commissioners issue concern over Condit Dam removal.

The future of Condit Dam, which some believed was settled months ago, is apparently still on the table for review -- and it's an issue that isn't likely to go away quietly.

"Condit Dam is the big issue in the county right now," said Klickitat County Commissioner Don Struck on Friday.

Struck pointed out that the Washington Department of Ecology recently decided to complete a supplemental environmental study on water quality and stormwater runoff related to possible removal of the dam, which is about three miles up the White Salmon River.

Struck said the County Commissioners plan to meet with DOE representatives, probably sometime in December, to discuss issues of concern regarding the dam.

"What happens if they blow the dam and it pulls water out of White Salmon's well field?" Struck asked. "We have a county bridge across Northwestern Lake. What happens to the piers when that water is pulled out of there?"

However, he said his main concern was related to the silt and sediment that has backed up behind the dam for so many years.

"Those of us who have lived in the area know what's in that lake," Struck said. "I know there's a dump truck in the lake, and there are batteries and car motors and a lot of hazardous materials in that silt. I can't fathom blowing a hole in it and letting it all go into the Columbia River. Is that ecologically sound science? It just slays me."

Struck said he believed that much of the material should be dredged, "at the very least."

Struck added that the homes around the lake may suffer damage from erosion if the water is drained.

"Those banks are bound to slide, and the vegetation is going to change," he explained. "The trout will go away, and we'll lose one of our best recreational lakes."

In a six-page letter dated Nov. 19 and addressed to Loree Randall of the Washington Department of Ecology, Struck raised these and several other issues related to impact dam removal could cause.

Greg Schuler, lead for watershed planning for the Klickitat Basin out of DOE's Yakima office, said the federal government is expected to begin work on its Environmental Impact Statement around the start of next year. Schuler said the state will provide input to the federal process rather than do its own EIS.

"That's a way to avoid redundancy and save taxpayers' dollars," Schuler said, adding that after the federal study, Washington DOE will then determine if the federal study was adequate.

Schuler added that an informational workshop will soon be scheduled with the Klickitat County Commissioners.

"Because of the sensitive nature of this, we want the meeting as soon as we can," he explained. "We'll talk about where we're at with the permits we're dealing with, and with our timelines and opportunities for the county to be involved."

Last week, the Husum/BZ Corner Community Council -- which sent a letter of its own to DOE on Nov. 20, blasting DOE's role in plans to remove the dam -- formally requested that the Columbia River Gorge Commission offer comments to FERC on the dam proposal. Condit Dam, which straddles the border of Klickitat and Skamania counties, is located within the National Scenic Area.

The executive director of the Gorge Commission, Martha Bennett, said she does not believe the agency should take a stand on the issue. She explained that the Gorge Commission does not have any jurisdiction over federal agencies such as FERC.

"Since the decision to permit removal of the dam would be made by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Forest Service is the agency that is charged with reviewing that action under the National Scenic Area Act," Bennett said.

Struck said FERC should no longer be seen as the lead agency in reviewing possible removal of Condit Dam.

"FERC is the regulatory licensing agency, but when the application went from relicensing to decommissioning and removal, of course DOE should have the lead in mitigating potential damage to the lake," Struck said.

Struck suggested that a fish ladder could be a "win-win" for everyone involved.

"We've talked to a firm in the Seattle area that has new technology for a fish ladder," he said. "They could do fish passage for about $1 million on smaller dams."


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