Condit Dam was the big topic once again last Tuesday evening, as the Washington Department of Ecology (DOE) came to White Salmon to take public comment on PacifiCorp's application for "water quality certification."
The DOE now faces a one-year time limit to rule on PacifiCorp's permit request. If DOE fails to meet the deadline, it loses its right to comment on potential water quality impacts resulting from the proposed removal of the dam.
According to a notice from the DOE, "the certification process ... is designed to determine whether a proposed project will comply with state water-quality standards and other relevant state regulations protecting the environment. If granted, the certification can include conditions designed to avoid, minimize, or compensate for the effects a project will have on aquatic resources."
PacifiCorp, a Portland utility, owns Condit Dam, a hydroelectric facility on the White Salmon River. The company has signed an agreement to remove the structure in 2006. Obtaining a water quality certification is one of the many regulatory hurdles PacifiCorp has to get over before it can proceed with its plans.
For technical reasons, on May 28, 2002, PacifiCorp withdrew its original water quality permit application -- which DOE had not yet made a decision on -- and reapplied to allow time to complete state and federal environmental reviews.
"Legally we have a year to make a decision, but we anticipate making a decision in a timely manner," said Loree' Randall, DOE's Condit Dam project manager.
Randall did not offer a more specific timeline.
Approximately 60 people attended the Tuesday evening hearing, and over 20 asked for time to offer comments for the DOE record.
Comments focused heavily on whether there would be serious long-term impacts to the lower White Salmon River from silt and other debris that would be unleashed if the dam is taken out.
William Paulsen, a member of the White Salmon River Steelheaders, said his group is opposed to dam removal.
"The trout population would be severely decimated by removal of the dam," Paulsen explained, "and the silt would completely decimate the lower 3.2 miles of the White Salmon River."
Paulsen also said that some endangered runs of salmon use the mouth of the White Salmon River to rest before continuing upstream. If the dam is removed, silt could block that area, which could result in increased mortality for the passing salmon. Paulsen called on PacifiCorp to build a fish ladder, as it had originally been called on to do as part of the dam relicensing process.
"The dam provides an economic asset to the community," said Husum area resident George Mersereau. "Its removal would impact recreation for seniors and for children who like to fish in Northwestern Lake."
Mersereau added that there would be a net loss of salmon and steelhead if the dam is removed as proposed.
Jim Fritchey followed and pointed out that if the dam has to be removed, all the spoils above the dam would need to be removed and trucked away to prevent damage to the lower portion of the White Salmon River.
"Politics needs to be moved out of this," Fritchey added.
Goldendale resident Kenn Adcock said he was concerned about possible harm to wells if Northwestern Lake is drained.
"What will happen to the static level of wells in the area?" he questioned. "This could literally put wells out of commission."
Jerry Smith of Husum told DOE representatives that he has lived along the White Salmon River or Northwestern Lake for the past 63 years.
"The last thing I want to see is that lake go away," Smith said. "But if you remove the dam -- and you dredge first -- you take my argument away from me."
Jim Rhoads blasted DOE for having already signed on to PacifiCorp's "Settlement Agreement."
"DOE has already agreed to removal of the dam when it signed the Settlement Agreement in 1999," Rhoads said. "It is fraudulent of DOE to ask for public comment. The fix is in, and the skids are greased."
Dawn Stover of Snowden said she wanted to see the dam removed "to leave something for our children."
"I urge you to steer clear of emotion and politics," she said. "And focus on the scientific analysis, which is pretty substantial consensus that there will be impacts immediately after the dam is removed, but the fish come back. Everywhere else it's been successful beyond our wildest dreams."
Victor Clausen of Trout Lake said he believed the arguments about sediment and silt hurting the river were overblown. He used the example of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980.
"St. Helens blew and that was a lot worse then this would be, but the Toutle River came back quickly," he explained. "I'm in favor of the Settlement Agreement. It's the most efficient and best option."
Phyllis Clausen said the Friends of the White Salmon River support dam removal.
"Sediment transport models predict most sediments would be carried out of the White Salmon River and into the Columbia River within three months to eight months," she said.
Jay Letto of White Salmon said he believed there was a lot of "rhetoric and misinformation" regarding dam removal.
"Let's not lose sight of this grand opportunity," he said. "The long-term benefits to the fish far outweigh the short-term impacts."
Cyndy deBruler, president of the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper, said she understood the emotional feelings of those who grew up near Northwestern Lake. But she added that she found the interest of the county government in the fate of the dam to be opportunistic.
"Unfortunately, our county officials have hired attorneys to speak out on environmental considerations regarding the dam, when our county has shown very little concern for environmental issues in any way previously," deBruler said.
After the meeting, Dave Kvamme, communications business partner for PacifiCorp, said he thought the event was productive.
"I think issues were aired out pretty well," Kvamme said. "And there was genuine interest in the comments from DOE. It was not a perfunctory hearing."