- Associated Press - Friday, August 14, 2015

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) - Three large excavators pulverized 80-year-old concrete at Fielder Dam, a 19-foot-tall relic on Evans Creek that hasn’t diverted any irrigation water for three decades.

When the dam’s gone, about 70 miles of spawning tributaries of the Rogue River will be more accessible for salmon and steelhead, say project leaders.

“This is great news for salmon and steelhead, and the many people who love the Rogue River,” said Bob Hunter, WaterWatch board member who was instrumental in removing Savage Rapids Dam, ending in 2009.

Staton Construction of Salem has demolished numerous dams around the Northwest, including Elwha and Condit in Washington, to help fish passage, so Wednesday’s work was efficient. About 550 cubic yards of concrete - about 55 truckloads - from the dam will be taken to a site in Central Point.

“They move pretty fast,” said Brian Barr, project collaborator representing the GEOS Institute, an Ashland-based non-profit focusing on science and climate change.

The demolition is part of a $700,000 project to remove Fielder and Wimer, an 11-foot-tall dam about five miles upstream that was knocked out two weeks ago.

Both dams had fish ladders that were substandard, especially for fall chinook salmon when the creek is low in the fall. Passage was also difficult in high flows, Barr said.

“We certainly expect better survival and reproduction upstream after this dam and Wimer are gone,” Barr said.

On the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s statewide list of fish passage problems, Fielder was ranked fourth and Wimer ninth-worst.

“When you’re talking No. 4 and No. 9 in the state, that’s a pretty good indication of the severity,” said Jay Doino, biologist for the ODFW in Central Point. “In a normal water year, most fall chinook cannot pass Fielder. If you look at spawning distribution, above and below, it’s a stark distinction.”

River Design Group, based in Corvallis, was hired by WaterWatch to oversee the permitting process. The company was also involved in removal of Gold Ray Dam and Gold Hill’s diversion dam on the Rogue River prior to 2010. Scott Wright, a Grants Pass High School and Oregon State University graduate, is the lead engineer for the company on the local projects, as he was with the Gold Hill dams.

“Having grown up on the Rogue River, it’s really an honor to be back … and working on these two significant fish passage barriers,” Wright said.

The dam removal hasn’t come without some opposition.

The owners of the property where the dam is located, Steve and Sharon Keeton, filed an appeal in Jackson County to stop the work, but the appeal was overruled by a Jackson County hearings officer.

WaterWatch filed suit against the Keetons and a family trust in 2013 because the dam was in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act. The outcome of that was access to the property to get the dam out in exchange for $5,000 to the property owners, according to Hunter.

“We entered into a landowner agreement with the Keetons to remove the dam. They granted access,” Hunter said. “The dam was a liability, with no storage or water rights attached.”

Sharon Keeton, when contacted on Wednesday, declined to comment.

Last week her brother Rodney Crume sat on the access road, delaying heavy equipment for three hours. The project leaders called in Jackson County sheriff’s deputies and Oregon State Police to gain access.

On Tuesday the Oath Keepers of Josephine County arrived on the scene, with former state Rep. Gordon Anderson of Grants Pass, questioning the permits and asking for sediment sampling, Wright said.

One argument against removal, by local resident Alan Ehr, was that potentially harmful sediments could be unleashed downstream, including heavy metals such as arsenic.

Wright said because the sediment was mostly coarse sand, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers didn’t require arsenic levels to be tested.

“We’re doing everything according to regulatory requirements,” Wright said.

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Information from: Daily Courier, http://www.thedailycourier.com

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