Dam to close in 2010 County eyes Powerdale lands for recreation or electricity use


News staff writer

October 28, 2006

Hood River County is interested in developing a recreation area and possibly a small hydropower project on Powerdale Dam property.

PacifiCorp plans to dismantle the aging hydroelectric facility in 2010. The company wants to turn more than 400 acres along both sides of the Hood River over to another entity for wildlife habitat and recreational management.

Currently, there are three parties interested in acquiring the deed when the structure shuts down. Dave Meriwether, county administrator, said Western Rivers Conservancy of Portland and Columbia Land Trust of Vancouver, Wash., are also contenders for the shoreline tract.

The county and two conservation groups will submit proposals for their use of the property to PacifiCorp by mid-November. The power provider will weigh the plans and then choose the recipient of the land.

“We would really like to see this property under local ownership so it’s something we want to pursue,” said Meriwether.

He said officials are now exploring which recreational opportunities will best blend with preservation of riparian areas. Plus, although the dam will be gone, the location might support the county’s interest in generating revenue through a small power plant of 10 megawatts or less.

The hydro subcommittee of the county’s renewable energy work group is getting ready to apply for grant funds to explore that issue further. Eight or nine other possible sites along local waterways will also be studied if the county receives lottery dollars banked in the Renewable Energy Feasibility Fund and money from the Energy Trust of Oregon.

Meriwether said these grants will probably require the county to come up with several thousand dollars in matching funds. He said the money will be well-spent if three to four viable sites are identified that can provide a revenue stream for essential services.

In addition, a biomass subcommittee will be seeking funds to inventory the amount of available woody debris in the Mid-Columbia region. The matching costs for that analysis are likely to be split between Hood River, Wasco and Gilliam counties in Oregon and Skamania and Klickitat counties in Washington. Meriwether said supplying an energy plant with forest, agriculture and even urban waste is likely to require fuels from all of these areas.

He said the county will not get into the business of producing alternative energy for the grid if that move would harm existing businesses. For example, Meriwether said it will be important not to diminish supplies for the wood pellets produced by Bear Mountain Forest Products in Cascade Locks.

He said both studies are expected to be completed by January and then decisions can be made based on the data that is collected.

Also, by that time, the county should better understand the wind flows on its Middle Mountain property. Equipment has been set up to determine if turbines would operate efficiently in that location.

“Hopefully, we can come up with several viable projects and then determine if we want to pursue them,” said Meriwether.

He said solar power does not appear to produce enough excess to generate a profit. But, if any of the other sources yield enough capital, the county might be able to afford the installation of solar panels to offset its own energy needs.

“There are just a lot of opportunities here that we need to explore,” said Meriwether. “We’re a perfect renewable energy microcosm in many ways.”

In January, the Hood River County Commission decided to look into the “green power” business.

For the last several years, the county’s general fund budget has held steady because employees have not been replaced as they left and departments were consolidated.

But, with money growing increasingly tight for extra projects, the county board felt it was time to look for other revenue sources.

About $4 million of the government agency’s working capital is derived from timber receipts on the 30,000 acres it owns and manages. So, officials believed they had enough working knowledge of a natural resource industry to pursue other ventures.

A steering committee of experts in one of the four fields was formed to explore all of the involved state and federal regulations. Subcommittees were tasked with thoroughly researching each of the choices.

Meriwether said, if the county can generate more money, it can bring to fruition plans to establish bicycle lanes along public rights of way.

In addition, more affordable housing opportunities can be pursued to benefit middle income residents. And new jobs created by expanding the existing industrial land base.

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