Environmentalists angered by Umpqua dam plan

WINCHESTER — A Canadian company's proposal to produce electricity from the North Umpqua River has drawn opposition from environmental groups while perplexed government officials question the company's intentions.

Coastal Hydropower, headquartered on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, wants to install five turbines along the 485-foot-wide dam. The units would produce 2.5 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply 2,500 homes. The company has filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to proceed with studies.

The Winchester Water Control District, which owns the dam and would need to sign off on the project, has not been contacted, board President Eric Ball said.

In addition, Oregon law prohibits constructing dams or hydroelectric projects on the North Umpqua between Soda Springs Dam and the confluence of the North and South Umpqua rivers at River Forks Park west of Roseburg.

The law, which also bans dams and electric projects on the main stem of the Umpqua River to the ocean, was passed after hydroelectric generators were removed from the Winchester Dam in the mid-1980s because threatened coast coho and other fish were being killed in the turbines.

The law also prohibits the Oregon Water Resources Department from issuing a water right, another requirement for operating a hydroelectric project.

"Coastal Hydropower would have an uphill battle," Ball said. "We don't really know what their intentions are."

According to Coastal Hydropower President Neil Anderson, the company is looking for a site in the Pacific Northwest to demonstrate a French-made turbine developed for installation in existing dams.

The turbine is designed to be fish friendly, Anderson wrote in an e-mail to The News-Review. Coastal Hydropower plans to test the turbines on Northwest fish species when a suitable location is found, Anderson wrote.

The preliminary permit application with FERC, according to Anderson, is a "prelude to conducting environmental, regulatory and economic feasibility analysis."

"If legislation is in place that prohibits the emplacement of any kind of hydro facilities into an existing dam on that waterway, then our company would not pursue that site any further," he wrote.

Douglas County Planning Director Keith Cubic said the project would be subject to local review, but Coastal Hydropower hasn't contacted the county yet.

Several conservation groups — including the Steamboaters, the North Umpqua Foundation, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands and Water Watch of Oregon — have filed motions to oppose the Winchester Dam project.

The groups claim turbines would harm Oregon Coast coho, steelhead and Chinook salmon. The coast coho was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1988, and the dam is within an area that was designated as critical habitat for the coho in 2008.

There are several fish restoration projects being carried out above the dam. David Harris, the southwest region hydropower coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said his agency believes the Winchester Dam project would "reduce the effectiveness of the multiparty efforts to restore fish populations in the basin," he wrote in a letter to FERC.

Coastal Hydropower also has filed an application to install a turbine on the headgate of the Walterville Canal, which feeds into the McKenzie River east of Springfield.

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