From the Wheelhouse: Address dams now — not later

Big Creek Dams are seen.

Critical funds to make the Big Creek Dams ready for an earthquake are poised for veto by Gov. Kate Brown. The $4 million in House Bill 5050 would go to the City of Newport for planning, environmental permitting and design for the dams, which will fail as they stand not only in a 9-magnitude earthquake but even during a much smaller one.

Recent geologic activity off our coast and an uptick in small earthquakes only highlight this concern.

“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,” Brown said in a statement this week. “The Big Creek Dams are only two of what could be several dams across the state that may need critical repair.”

The Oregon Water Resources Department has already studied dam vulnerability. It’s findings? Big Creek Dams and the Wallowa Lake Dam are the most critical in terms of their need to be addressed now. So why are we trying to reinvent the wheel?

Granted, further study of all of the state’s dams isn’t a bad idea when you have a catastrophe of almost unthinkable proportions in the offing. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a coastal lawmaker or resident who wouldn’t like to see more preparation for the inevitable being done more quickly.

But holding off on addressing a clear and current danger for the sake of “further study” not only sells the residents of Newport short and undermines the work of those who fought for this money and understand its need — it pushes any real action months and potentially years down the road. The water supply and safety of thousands hang in the balance in a proposal to cut bait instead of seizing the moment to act.

Folks out here are puzzled. They should be.

The Coastal Caucus, City of Newport and lawmakers like Rep. David Gomberg are urging Brown to reconsider this plan to veto. We urge our readers to contact the governor’s office and let their voices be heard. The citizen message line is listed on this page.

— Bret Yager

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