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Gold Ray Dam - Free the County and the Salmon

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Gold Ray Dam w/coffers

We reported on July 6 that Gold Ray dam removal was underway, again, after a state land board dismissed an appeal that halted demolition work in June. Unfortunately, these same people who don’t want to see the Rogue restored have filed additional lawsuits designed to halt dam removal. In addition to a legal challenge to a county floodplain permit, a federal lawsuit was filed last week against Jackson County to stop removal of the dam.  

On behalf of wild salmon and fiscal responsibility, Rogue Riverkeeper, WaterWatch of Oregon and Rogue Flyfishers are doing what we can to support the county in removing the dam and its liabilities. Yesterday, we filed a motion to intervene in legal proceedings that have resulted in a temporary stop work order on dam removal and have a hearing in Medford on July 26. We are hopeful that this will be resolved, and that this river restoration project will resume quickly. Many thanks to the Western Environmental Law Center for representing us.

Background:

Gold Ray dam on the Rogue River near Medford is an obsolete remnant. Originally built in 1906 to provide electricity to the area’s booming gold mines, the dam was taken out of electricity production in 1972 when Pacific Power gave it to Jackson County. Today, it is structurally dangerous, looms as an expensive liability for Jackson County, serves no purpose and was listed by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife as the fifth biggest impediment to fish passage in the state.

While the Rogue River is second only to the Columbia for salmon in Oregon, Rogue salmon face the same problem as most wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest; they are teetering toward extinction. We have an opportunity in the Rogue Basin for robust restoration efforts, and removing fish passage barriers to allow salmon to reach historic spawning grounds is an essential step in curbing this horrific trend. Thus, when the National Marine Fisheries Service offered some of its federal stimulus allocation to Jackson County to remove the defunct and hazardous Gold Ray dam, many Jackson County residents and salmon fans were delighted.

Jackson County now has $6 million to complete this river restoration project, compared to the $67 million price tag to repair the dam and build electrical capacity. The County came to a prudent conclusion and approved dam removal, which began in June.