PacifiCorp on Thursday signed over 400 acres of waterfront property lining the lower Hood River to Columbia Land Trust and Hood River County. The transfer has been several years in the works and closes another chapter in the long process of decommissioning Powerdale Dam, which was built in 1923 and removed in 2010.
The acreage, known as the Powerdale Lands Corridor, runs along both sides of the Hood River and extends from the former dam site downstream 3.5 miles to the City of Hood River. Formerly owned by PacifiCorp, the land transfer was part of the company’s decommissioning settlement agreement.
Hood River County received 101 acres total at both ends of the corridor, while CLT took ownership of the remaining middle section in the transfer. In addition to donating the land to the two parties, PacifiCorp will give almost $200,000 to a CLT fund that will generate revenue to be used for activities on the land.
According to Columbia Land Trust, future priorities for the property are (in order) conserving and enhancing fish and wildlife habitat, retaining existing recreation uses, enhancing future recreation uses and respecting tribal fishing rights.
Having taken ownership of the land, CLT and HRC will work to establish long-term plans to help balance the need for conservation and environmental stewardship while maintaining and enhancing public access and recreation opportunities for the well-used stretch of river.
“We know Columbia Land Trust and Hood River County will continue this tradition of recreation so that the canyon will always be a place where you can safely enjoy nature,” said Todd Olson, PacifiCorp program manager. “PacifiCorp worked with them to transfer full responsibility for these lands, which is in the best interests of our customers and all those who enjoy the lower Hood River.”
CLT noted that while long-term planning is in progress, in the first year CLT and HRC will begin to control weeds, maintain infrastructure, work with the neighbors and community to address possible concerns and continue to provide basic toilet and trash facilities at the former powerhouse parking area.
“Just moments from the city of Hood River, you’ll see soaring eagles and osprey, fascinating American dippers or steelhead queuing up behind rocks and riffles heading home to spawn,” said Glenn Lamb, CLT executive director. “We have conserved the very nature of the Northwest in both place and experience.”
Thursday’s land transfer came a decade after PacifiCorp entered into a settlement agreement to decommission and remove Powerdale. The dam was built in the 1922-23 to replace earlier generating facilities operated by Pacific Power and Light along the Hood River.
The 6,000-watt plant would help feed the appetite for electricity in the expanding agriculture industries of rural Hood River County and would serve the cities of Hood River and The Dalles.
At its time of construction, Powerdale was hailed as “the largest single power unit in Oregon.”
About 80 years later, with Powerdale’s output dwarfed by that of nearby Columbia River dams, its fate was sealed when measures needed to relicense the project with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission were more costly over time than what the dam was worth to keep in operation.
In the original agreement, PacifiCorp was allowed to operate Powerdale until 2010. A flooding event in November 2006 seriously damaged the facility, rendering it unusable and fast-tracking plans for its removal.
As part of the decommissioning settlement agreement, six entities were selected to find an owner for the narrow strip of property Powerdale owned on both sides of the Hood River between the dam and the powerhouse.
Those entities (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Hood River Watershed Group, The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, American Rivers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) selected CLT to lead the transfer process.
“Columbia Land Trust has the best reputation and best track record in the Gorge for taking ownership of conservation-worthy properties and for managing those properties for long-term value,” said Steve Stampfli, former Hood River Watershed Group coordinator.
Columbia Land Trust and Hood River County are developing a site-management plan with input from partners and neighbors. The plan describes specific actions and strategies for the property. (A summary of site-management plans and other information on the Powerdale Corridor can be viewed at http://bit.ly/11RfDNy.)
CLT acknowledges that public access to the corridor is currently limited and that restoring what it calls “true access” will be a priority moving forward. At this time, the only public access to the property is via the powerhouse access road off of Highway 35, just south of downtown Hood River.
The well-used pipeline and pathway along the river that once stretched the entire length of the corridor was washed out at about the center point by flooding in 2006 and has since been impassible. Access to the former dam site at Copper Dam Road is private property with no public right of way.
Dean Guess, Hood River County Public Works Department director, said the county and Columbia Land Trust will work closely together going forward and that maintaining public access to the land is one of the county’s chief priorities.
“This property means a lot to Hood River County residents for day access, hiking, fishing and kayaking,” Guess said. “The corridor needs to stay available to those users and the land transfer facilitates that goal.”
Public access to the land is currently limited to a pathway and sections of the old pipeline that carried diverted water from the dam to the powerhouse. CLT staff said that although a liability issue, the pipeline provides a unique and effective way for the public to access the corridor so, unless or until another means of access is in the works, the pipeline will stay.
“We’re not going to replace it until we know what we’re replacing it with to maintain recreational access,” said Ian Sinks, CLT stewardship manager. Sinks added that there are no plans at this time to remove the former powerhouse building at the north end of the corridor. Instead, he said, the goal is to try to find a practical use for it.
From an urban interface standpoint, the transfer and the corridor represents a successful blending of human interaction with a healthy river ecosystem.
“It’s a river canyon that runs through heavy agricultural uses and into a heavily developed urban area, but is still quite pristine,” said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Mid-Columbia District Fish Biologist Rod French.
“With the dam removed, this stretch of Hood River is becoming an increasingly important area for chinook and coho salmon and is hugely popular with anglers due to the easy access.”
Chuck Gehling, Hood River Watershed Group’s chairman, hinted on the impact that removing the dam has on the entire watershed.
“Every fish that uses the basin has to travel up and down through that corridor,” he said. “This is one of the most critical areas in the entire watershed for restoration and protection.”