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for people who care about the West

Oregon dam is in limbo

  The future of partially completed Elk Creek Dam in southern Oregon remains murky. Federal judge James Burns recently decided that the Army Corps of Engineers has not adequately considered new studies which show the dam significantly impairing salmon runs. But instead of ordering the dam razed, or lifting an injunction against completing work, the judge ordered the agency to study how to modify the flood-control dam to save salmon runs. The new ruling, almost a year in coming, keeps the 1987 injunction in place. "It is a hollow victory," says Andy Kerr, conservation director of the Oregon Natural Resources Council. "Fish are still bumping their noses on the dam." For the last two years, the Corps has been trapping and hauling fish around the one-third built dam, and environmentalists say the effort is expensive and ineffective. Dave Brown, Corps assistant chief of programs, estimates that, until the dam is finished or destroyed, annual caretaking will cost $450,000 to $500,000. According to Corps project manager Doug Clarke, his agency has never supported building the dam because it will return benefits less than one-third of its construction costs. But the Corps must carry out Congress' mandate to build the dam, Clarke says. The agency has not yet determined how long the fish passage study will take or how much it will cost, but Clarke says he is confident the agency can build a dam that saves salmon runs. For more information, contact Dawn Edwards, Army Corps of Engineers, P.O. Box 2946, Portland, OR 97208-2946 (503/326-6021).