First big step in Elwha Dam removal taken

PORT ANGELES – Federal, city and tribal officials marked the start of a project necessary for the planned removal of the Elwha River dams Friday.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Port Angeles Mayor Karen Rogers at the groundbreaking ceremony on the southwest corner of the city’s landfill site at the end of West 16th Street.

“The world will be watching,” she said.

“The world will be coming. They already have started.”

Removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams to restore salmon habitat won’t begin until at least 2012.

The construction begun Friday – which is expected to last two years – is one of the first of two water treatment plants required to protect water quality as decades of trapped silt washes downstream when the dams are taken out.

Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, said that the Elwha River project “will be a real world test to see if nature can protect itself.

“It seems the light finally is visible at the end of this long tunnel,” he said Friday, speaking over the noise of construction.

Continued funding is assured because the project has been in the budgets of presidents stretching back to George H.W. Bush, he said.

“This is not an earmark,” he said.

“It’s in the president’s budget.”

The National Park Service awarded the $24,482,750 contract for the first treatment plant on Sept. 7 to Watts/Korsmo A JV of Gig Harbor, a joint venture of Watts Constructors LLC and John Korsmo Construction Inc.

The project, which was last estimated at $185 million, has attracted worldwide attention from biologists, environmentalists and others interested in not just removal of the two concrete structures but how the river’s ecosystem will be restored.

Olympic National Park Superintendent Bill Laitner said this would be the second largest ecosystem restoration project in National Park Service history.

The first project was a $7.8 billion restoration effort in Everglades National Park in Florida.

The Elwha River restoration is expected to increase the current fish run of 4,000 to 400,000, Laitner said.

None of this could have happened without Dicks and the park is fortunate to have his full support, Laitner said.

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Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group

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