The yearslong battle over one of Central Oregon’s oldest dam complexes could be nearing a conclusion, after a federal judge’s ruling.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon denied a motion to revisit a decision earlier this year, in which he ruled in favor of Portland General Electric in its management of the Pelton-Round Butte Dam complex.
Steve Corson, spokesman for Portland General Electric, said the denial could move the utility closer to the end of a legal battle that has gone on for more than two years.
“With this decision behind us, we remain focused on the steady, long-term, science-based program we have in place to restore salmon and steelhead runs and improve water quality and habitat throughout the Deschutes Basin,” Corson wrote in an email.
The denial is the latest in a series of legal twists and turns, stemming from a 2016 lawsuit filed by the Deschutes River Alliance, a Portland-based conservation organization.
The lawsuit alleged that a facility designed to help fish pass through the massive three-dam complex to the Lower Deschutes Rivers violates the terms of the facility’s license with respect to water temperature, dissolved oxygen levels and other standards.
The initial plan to allow fish to pass through the dam complex, which was constructed in the 1950s and 1960s, failed to work as planned, prompting a search for a different solution. PGE and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, which co-manage the facility, constructed a 273-foot-high tower, known as a selective withdrawal facility, at the complex in 2010.
Six years later, however, the Deschutes River Alliance alleged more than 1,200 violations of the project’s certification. Jonah Sandford, executive director of the organization, said Friday the facility has harmed both fish living in the Middle Deschutes River and the communities, including Maupin, that rely on fishing in the river to support their local tourism economies.
“They’ve seen a significant drop in revenue,” Sandford said.
Following an unsuccessful mediation effort, both the Deschutes River Alliance and Portland General Electric filed motions for summary judgment earlier this year, each asking the judge to rule in their favor without a full trial. In August, Simon granted PGE’s request and denied the Deschutes River Alliance’s request, noting that the conservation organization “has not shown a genuine dispute of material fact sufficient to support its contention,” that the facility isn’t meeting license requirements.
After the initial decision, Sandford asked the judge to take another look, contending that the previous decision contained errors in how the court evaluated the project’s requirements for dissolved oxygen. However, the judge upheld his prior views in the subsequent denial.
Sandford said the Deschutes River Alliance would continue to evaluate its options. He didn’t rule out filing an appeal within the designated 30-day window after the decision.
“It’s a disappointing result, but it’s not the end of the fight by any means,” Sandford said.
—Reporter: 541-617-7818, email@example.com