After decades in the dirt, 2,600 feet of steel pipe that comprised part of the late Powerdale Dam on the lower Hood River is marked for removal.
Columbia Land Trust, a Pacific Northwest river conservation group that owns part of the land the pipeline is on, announced it is removing the half-mile section on the southern end of the fragmented pipeline in order to make way for riparian restoration efforts.
Hood River County is also considering removing a 750-foot section on its land along the north end of the pipeline upstream from the Mt. Hood Railroad Bridge located just outside downtown Hood River. The pipeline once served as the penstock for the Powerdale Dam, which was built in 1923 for hydroelectric purposes by Pacific Power, then called Pacific Power & Light.
By the early 2000s, federally required upgrades to the dam’s infrastructure proved too costly and the dam was forced to cease operations by 2010, according to News archives. However, a flood in November 2006 took out the middle section of the pipeline, which rendered the facilities inoperable and fasttracked the decommissioning of the dam, which was ultimately completed in 2010.
Since then, the northern section of pipeline close to town has become an increasingly popular walking trail, earning a mention in Scott Cook’s “Curious Gorge Guidebook,” attracting visitors to walk along the former maintenance catwalk still intact in some places. For those who like to walk that portion of the pipeline don’t worry: that section is staying, at least for the near future, according to Kate Conley, stewardship lead for the Gorge and the east Cascades at CLT.
“Sometimes people hear about it, they start to freak out,” she said of the removal. “They’re not taking away anything that’s being used currently.” Conley added the southern section CLT plans to remove never had a walkway and hasn’t been accessible to the public anyway.
The removal of the pipeline will make way for riparian restoration efforts CLT has planned for the lower Hood River in an attempt to bring lands back to pre-dam condition. When ownership of the 404 acres of land along the former Powerdale site — known as the Powerdale Lands Corridor — transferred from Pacific Power to CLT and Hood River County in March 2013, CLT set the conservation and enhancement of fish and wildlife lands in the corridor as the number one priority.
Conley said CLT hopes to have the pipeline removed by this fall and aims to start habitat restoration work by late August 2015.
Restoration work will consist of a number of activities, including the removal of a berm to create stream side channels, adding woody debris to create small pools for fish habitat, planting native flora, and removing invasive species such as reed canary grass. According to Conley, the pipeline will be removed at no cost to CLT by a company that intends to repurpose the 8.5-foot diameter steel pipe for a renewable energy project. She added CLT will even make a little money off the deal.
“It’s a pretty ideal project for us,” she noted. Although removal of the walking trail section of the pipeline is off the table now, Conley mentioned it might not be in the future. “I guess long term it might not be there forever,” she said, “but in the medium term, it seems like the best way to maintain access, but it may become a liability at some point.”
If it ever came to that, Conley said CLT would want to replace the pipeline with some other sort of pedestrian access — most likely via shoreline trail.
However, Conley noted such an endeavor would likely be “technically difficult” and expensive. She added the elevated pipeline provides a benefit by “minimizing the impact of people walking all over the place,” trampling plants. “Right now, there’s more interest in leaving the pipeline for pedestrian access and for access to fishing,” Conley explained.
She added CLT is working with the county on ways to increase access, which is limited by terrain and the fact that Copper Dam Road, which leads to the former site of Powerdale Dam, is a private road.
As for the northern section, the Hood River County Commissioners will be considering a recommendation by Public Works to remove 750 feet of pipe at the north section, roughly between the old powerhouse and the area right before the pipeline meets the Mt. Hood Railroad tracks. Like CLT, the county also plans to try and sell the pipe for reuse and expects to net anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000. According to Mikel Diwan, director of Hood River County Public Works, a portion of the money is expected to be used to cover the estimated $8,000 cost of demolishing a building that was once the dam caretaker’s house.
County Administrator Dave Meriwether believed the house had been vacant for at least 10 years but noted, “It looks like it’s been 30 years.” He said the inside had been “gutted” by vandals over the years and couldn’t be salvaged. “It’s pitiful,” he said. “It’s beyond hope.”
Diwan said if the pipe is removed, the land would need to be re-graded and boulders might be placed at the parking lot that lies at the bottom of the powerhouse access road to prevent cars driving closer to the Hood River. If commissioners approve the recommendation at their regular meeting scheduled for Monday night, Diwan hoped to have the northern section of the pipeline removed before the end of the year.