Access to the lower Hood River via the former Powerdale substation and powerhouse will soon be reopened to the public for the indefinite future.
Over the last few months, and intermittently for the last two years, river access from the powerhouse (off Highway 35 just outside downtown Hood River) has been restricted due to projects related to the decommissioning of Powerdale Dam. But with a February timeline for finishing project work and a March date for a land transfer, the popular access point for fishing, hiking, dog walking and beach-going on the scenic section of river will be in the hands of Hood River County, which is intent on keeping it open to the public.
Most recently, crews hired by PacifiCorp have been working to dismantle and remove substation equipment that served as a relay terminal to feed electricity generated by the project into the regional power grid. In removing the equipment, crews tested soil and found some to have minor PCB contamination.
"Before 1976, oil used in transformers had PCB's in it," said Tom Gauntt PacifiCorp spokesman. "Some soil tested under the transformers was contaminated at a level of about .22 parts per million. That level isn't something that would warrant "required action", but since the land going to be handed over to the public, we decided to air on the side of caution. We want to be able to say we've done everything we could do."
Gauntt said crews removed a depth of two feet of soil in the contaminated area under the transformers.
Although PacifiCorp removed transformers and electrical equipment, the powerhouse structure will not be removed. The building, along with nearly 100 acres of land will be transferred to Hood River County as part of a multi-agency land transfer set to take place in March. At the lower site, the county will get about 65 acres of land upstream from the powerhouse and at the former Powerdale Dam site, the county will get about 33 acres from the former parking area downstream.
In all, PacifiCorp will transfer about 400 acres of land running on both sides of the river between the former dam and the powerhouse a few miles downriver. The narrow strip of land surrounding the river, called the Powerdale Lands Corridor, will be signed over to three groups: Columbia Land Trust will take ownership of the bulk of the land, with Hood River County and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife taking the rest.
"Once the transfer takes place, our whole goal is to keep public access," said Dean Guess, HRC Public Works director. "At the powerhouse site, that means once project work is done and the land is signed over, it will be open for public access. As far as the building; there's been some talk, but we're really not sure what to do with it. It's an odd structure that was designed for a very specific use."