By Ted Shorack

The Bulletin

What’s happening?

The Central Oregon Irrigation District and the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council are partnering to return Cline Falls to its natural state following a lawsuit filed last year against PacifiCorp. The company has agreed to pay $1.65 million to the irrigation district, a large portion of which will go toward removal of dams and other remnants of the hydroelectric power plant. The irrigation district expects the project to cost at least $2 million. Grants and other funding will be needed.

Structures to be removed

Wooden dam

Concrete dam

A plan is being developed to restore Cline Falls after a lawsuit was settled last week between the Central Oregon Irrigation District and PacifiCorp.

The irrigation district is partnering with the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council to remove dams on the Deschutes River and associated equipment and structures from the former hydroelectric Cline Falls Power Plant at the site west of Redmond.

The project will include cleaning up contaminants such as hydrocarbons and PCBs, which are pentachlorophenol and polychlorinated biphenyls, at a former electric transformer yard.

The irrigation district sued PacifiCorp in July 2014. The company’s predecessor started operating a hydroelectric facility at the site in 1913 and leased the property from the district’s predecessor. The district filed its multimillion-dollar suit against Pacifi­Corp more than a year after the company opted out of its 100-year-old lease a month early.

According to court documents, PacifiCorp left behind the wood flume, penstock pipe, powerhouse and headgate. The company was allowed to take electric-generating equipment from the site, according to the lease. Attorneys for the irrigation district argued in Deschutes County Circuit Court that the company should have removed all of the structures and equipment.

A wooden dam was initially constructed on the property, then replaced by a second concrete version next to it decades later.

The two sides were headed to trial this month before working out a settlement agreement to clean up the site and dismiss the suit.

PacifiCorp agreed to pay COID $1.65 million as part of the settlement, according to the terms, which were released to The Bulletin through a public records request.

Craig Horrell, the irrigation district’s manager, said Wednesday a “significant portion” of the settlement after legal fees would go toward dam removal and cleanup. The initial estimates for the project are close to $2 million, he said, but could be much more.

“When we do this, we’ll probably look for help from grants,” Horrell said. “We don’t know where the additional money is coming from.

“We’re committed to removing the dam and putting the river back to its natural state, no matter the cost.”

Horrell said the district is excited to be working with the watershed council to remove the dams and restore habitat.

“Native resident trout and many other species will benefit from the removal of (these dams) ,” Ryan Houston, executive director of the watershed council, said in a released statement.

“We are pleased to be working with the district to help enhance habitat and ecological conditions on the Des­chutes River.”

The former hydroelectric plant was not up to modern fish conservation standards. There were no fish screens installed, Horrell said, which keep fish away from water intake areas.

Even without the dams, the falls would have been a natural impediment for some fish.

“It’s an interesting site,” Houston said. “Cline Falls historically had passage for larger adult fish, but was a barrier for juveniles.”

The removal of the dams will bring the river back to its natural condition, however, and will benefit redband trout, he said.

The project will allow built-up sediment to begin flowing downriver again. Houston said the trick will be making sure native vegetation remains in the areas along the waterway.

“We want to make sure in that adjustment process it doesn’t get colonized by invasive weeds,” he said.

The irrigation district will continue to be part of the volunteer cleanup program overseen by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, which it initiated, Horrell said. The state agency will have the opportunity to review the ongoing cleanup effort.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, tshorack@bendbulletin.com

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