Brown plans to veto Big Creek Dams bill

Caucus asks her to reconsider

SALEM — Gov. Kate Brown plans to veto a provision in House Bill 5050, which the Oregon Legislature passed this year in an effort to allocate money for construction of two high-profile dams in danger of failing — the Big Creek Dams in Newport and the Wallowa Lake Dam. 

The $4 million price tag for Big Creek Dams would go to the City of Newport for planning, environmental permitting and design, according to the bill. One of the governor’s concerns with the legislation is that it only targets Big Creek Dams for replacement and doesn’t allocate money or other resources towards other dams with similar needs across the state. 

“We need to study all of Oregon’s dams, prioritize them for repair, and develop funding mechanisms before dedicating funds and planning work on any specific dam,” Gov. Brown said in a statement. “The Big Creek Dams are only two of what could be several dams across the state that may need critical repair.”

Brown went on to say there are 72 dams in Oregon with a high hazard rating that, if they fail, could result in deaths and destruction of property downstream of those dams. Approximately 15 of those dams are in poor condition and six were in unsatisfactory condition, and at least one state agency doesn’t have the manpower or the money to properly look at any of those dams to assess which ones are the most dangerous.

“I would ask the legislature to fund both the dam study and the dam safety task force so we can proceed quickly in addressing this significant need across the state,” Brown said of both of her solutions, which were struck down earlier this year by state legislators. 

Despite Brown’s concerns with the legislation, state representatives and local officials fear this is one more action that effectively puts the coast on the back burner if part of Section 82 of HB 5050 is, in fact, vetoed. 

“We didn’t get money for a SHAKE Alert program, we can’t request grant money to move buildings out of the inundation zone,” said David Gomberg (D-10th District). “Replacing our major highway system is 30 years away. Now we’re talking about putting off work to begin addressing dams that are vulnerable to earthquakes.”

The Otis resident planned to speak with Gov. Brown to sway her against vetoing that portion of HB 5050.

Gomberg added, “I’m disappointed by this announcement and I’m going to ask [Gov. Brown] to reconsider.”

Brown, now that the announcement of the potential veto has been made, has to veto Section 82 of HB 5050 by Aug. 9. 

The city, too, is fighting back. The Newport City Council approved a letter Monday night addressing Gov. Brown, stating that while the city’s elected officials know there isn’t a comprehensive study that includes rules and plans to help communities with dams like the Big Creek Dams, Newport doesn’t have time for such a study to be completed.

“It is vulnerable to devastating seismic events, and in one of these events, the Big Creek Dams would fail,” the letter, signed by all six of the Newport City Councilors and the mayor, read. “We do not have the luxury of time in delaying the planning, environmental permitting and design costs of this project. We believe we owe it to our citizens to move forward with this project in an expeditious manner.”

City officials said Monday night the Big Creek Dam project would affect a bigger percentage of the population than just the citizens of Newport, and in fact, benefits the county, as well. 

“It has county-wide benefits and resiliency issues for all communities in Lincoln County,” said freshman City Councilor Ryan Parker. “That’s the 10,000-foot view. It’s not just Newport’s needs here, it’s the whole region.”

The letter to Gov. Brown went on to say the city is moving forward with securing federal grants, and has a pending FEMA pre-disaster mitigation grant totaling $350,000, one of three grants the city is pursuing that requires state matching funds. 

“If we put this off and wait for the results of another study to confirm what we already know, we’ll lose time and potentially we’ll lose federal dollars,” Gomberg told the News-Times Tuesday. “It’s a serious conversation, and I have strong feelings we should forward with funding this plan.”


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