Dams to start coming down next year, Dicks is told

THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE hopes to start bringing down the Elwha River dams on Sept. 15, 2011, Brian Winter, Elwha River restoration manager, told U.S. Rep Norm Dicks on Wednesday.

The $351 project to remove the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams — the largest dam removal project in U.S. history — topped the congressman’s agenda during a brief swing through Port Angeles that began with a speech at a Port Angeles Rotary Club luncheon.

“We’re ready to move ahead,” Dicks, D-Belfair, said of the long-awaited habitat restoration project, which is expected to restore the once-fabled salmon runs in the river.

“And part of the reason we can do that is we got $54 million in stimulus spending under the stimulus budget,” he told Rotarians.

“We’ve already built two water plants out there, and we’re building a hatchery for the tribe. And now we’re going to take these two dams out.”

Winter told the congressman later that the park service will give the contractor notice to proceed on prep work next March, followed by a notice to proceed on the physical dam removal in mid September.

The park service, which had already issued its request for proposals, hopes to award a contract later this month.

“As soon as we get the contract awarded, we’ll be able to verify when that [removal] date will be,” Winter said.

Dicks regularly visits the North Olympic Peninsula during congress’ summer recess. He is running for re-election in the 6th Congressional district, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties, and faces Republican challengers Doug Cloud and Jesse Young in the Aug. 17 primary.

The congressman is in line to become chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, if re-elected.

Dicks, who has championed the removal of the 83- and 97-year-old Elwha River dams since 1992, met after the luncheon with Winter and Olympic National Park Deputy Superintendent Todd Suess at his Port Angeles office for a status update.

Winter told Dicks — who was among the dignitaries at a groundbreaking ceremony for a $16.4 million fish hatchery at the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe in February — that the fish hatchery is about halfway finished and is on schedule to open next May.

“What we wanted to do was give the tribe a minimum of four months to operate it before the dams start coming out,” Winter said.

“You’re going to have bugs with any kind of new facility.”

Scientists from around the country will be on hand to see how the sediment from the dam removal affects salmon species.

“I think the science aspect of this is very important,” Dicks told Winter.

The existing rearing channel in the Elwha River will raise endangered chinook salmon. The new tribal fish hatchery will raise endangered steelhead, as well as coho, pink and chum salmon, Winter said.

Both hatchery and wild Elwha chinook are one of five stocks in the Puget Sound basin listed as endangered because too few are returning to the rearing channel.

“It is the native stock,” Winter said.

“That’s the stock that used to produce 100 pounders — the same stock that’s been sitting in there since forever. So we expect that once we get the dams out, and let the stock get upstream, that trait will eventually exhibit itself again.”

Dicks asked Winter how long it would take to remove the dams once the physical removal begins.

To protect to water quality for Port Angeles-area water customers — and to prevent river sediment from killing fish — the National Park Service plans a conservative 2 ½-year schedule, Winter said. That puts the end of dam removal in March 2014.

“If it [the sediment] is not as bad as we think, we can probably accelerate the schedule, but we’re going into this conservative,” Winter told Dicks.

Beyond the sediment issue, knocking downs the dams too quickly could erode the slopes on the side of the river and clog its delta, Winter added.

Winter also told Dicks that the park service is relocating a hydrogeologist from Mount Rainier National Park to work full time on the Elwha project.

“There’s all kinds of implications to this,” Dicks told Port Angeles Rotarians.

“I think we should have a visitors’ center here on the Elwha, which I will work on, so that people can come here and see a great restoration project.

“This will be also a job creation project at a time when we need these jobs on the Olympic Peninsula.”

Dicks covered a range of subjects during his Rotary speech, including a need for more alternative energy, the importance of the stimulus bill, the effects of 9-11 and the need to create jobs and cut spending.

“I pledge to you that we will restrain spending, both defense and discretionary,” Dicks told the Rotarians.

If he becomes chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Dicks said he would try to restore bipartisanship.

Dicks added that he supports local efforts to raise $75,000 by Aug. 15 to match a $250,000 federal grant to keep Hurricane Ridge Road open seven days a week during the winter.

Squeezed between his Rotary and park service engagements, Dicks toured the Clallam County Emergency Operations Center in the basement of the courthouse with Sheriff Bill Benedict, Commissioner Steve Tharinger and other county officails.

Dicks has secured $800,000 for improvements to the EOC. Benedict said the money will be used for dispatch technology and modern communication equipment for emergency responders.

Dicks also made a stop Wednesday morning at Sequim City Hall where he discussed the proposed annexation of Battelle marine research laboratory into the city.

Dicks discussed the plan with Battelle representatives and City Manager Steve Burkett, who asked Dicks for help in securing funding that could help expedite city service to Battelle, which has a 105-acre campus on Sequim Bay.

More in News

Project 10 to help women’s wardrobes

United Way event set for Aug. 8 in Sequim

Bernadette Shein helps answer quilt questions for visitors of the Sunbonnet Sue Quilt Club’s annual quilt show in 2023. This year, the event will move to Trinity United Methodist Church and expand to two days, Friday and Saturday. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)
Quilt show gets new venue, expands to two-day event

Raffle quilts benefit club, scholarship fund

Olympic Medical Center to host community forum

Olympic Medical Center will host a virtual-only community forum… Continue reading

Weekly flight operations scheduled

There will be field carrier landing practice operations for aircraft… Continue reading

Clallam 2 Fire-Rescue
Firefighters respond to a fire near the ridge south of Port Angeles in the area known as the “Six Pack.”
UPDATE: Wildfire south of Port Angeles contained

Bulldozer, helicopter help firefighting efforts

State Senate hopefuls differ on pathways

Chapman, Kelbon make case for 24th District

EYE ON THE PENINSULA: Clallam continues discussion around mill closure

Meetings across Clallam and Jefferson counties

A set of electric vehicle charging stations stand ready for public use in the parking lot of the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)
Electric vehicle charging stations now at courthouse

The Clallam County Parks, Fair and Facilities Department has… Continue reading

Recall hearing set for four Port Angeles City Council members

Superior Court to determine if recall will proceed to ballot

Olympic Connect aims to improve health care outcomes

Program director discusses future plans for community care hub

Traffic restored at Chicken Coop Creek

The state Department of Transportation has restored traffic to the… Continue reading