Wash. contractor: Oregon dam project a ‘quagmire’

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COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. (AP) - Plans for a new hydroelectric plant at a dam in Oregon have become a mess, with the project’s owner and its now-former general contractor fighting in federal court.

The privately owned power plant at Dorena Dam on the Row River near Cottage Grove has been under construction for nearly two years, was slated to be done last June and is millions of dollars over budget, The Register-Guard reported (http://bit.ly/1fm0Hyk). The delays have disqualified its owner, Dorena Hydro LLC, from getting a government subsidy of about $8 million.

Dorena Hydro and its general contractor, Mowat Construction, of Woodinville, Wash., are accusing each other in a federal lawsuit of bungling the project. Mowat’s president wrote in one letter to Dorena Hydro that the venture is a “quagmire,” the newspaper reported.

The dispute highlights the potential pitfalls of grafting a hydroelectric project onto an old dam built for flood control, the newspaper said. The dam is owned and run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which granted permission for the project. Dorena Hydro held a splashy groundbreaking ceremony at the site in 2012. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., lauded the project’s green-energy potential.

But even then, Dorena Hydro and Mowat were arguing.

That spring and summer, Dorena Hydro failed to get government approval of a key geotechnical report, pushing initial excavation late into the 2012 construction season and into rainy weather, Mowat project manager Zachary Adams said in a March 4 court filing.

Mowat claims Dorena Hydro provided shoddy plans, repeatedly changed designs as construction progressed, failed to get federal permits on time, bought a defective turbine for Mowat to install and failed to pay Mowat at least $4.5 million.

For its part, Dorena Hydro, an arm of Canadian energy business Aquila, says Mowat failed to accomplish key tasks on time or on budget.

“As the project fell further and further behind schedule, Mowat’s and Dorena’s relationship steadily declined,” wrote Dorena Hydro’s president, Peter Clermont, in a court filing last month.

Mowat sued Dorena Hydro in January, alleging breach of contract and seeking damages in an amount to be proven at trial, and Dorena Hydro fired the company in February. Dorena also alleged breach of contract and is similarly seeking damages, the newspaper reported.

Dorena alleged that Mowat was lax on workplace safety, noting that a retaining wall collapsed in December, breaking a worker’s leg. The state fined Mowat nearly $1,700, but Mowat has appealed and insists there have been no major safety problems at the site.

Dorena Hydro has been trying to run water through the system to test it, said Army corps spokesman Scott Clemans. However, unspecified problems with one of the power plant’s turbines have halted those “wet tests.”

It’s unclear when the plant will be running.

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Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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