Smith, Citing Corps' Lack of Authority, Asks Army to Halt Plan to Breach Elk Creek Dam

Dec 4, 1997

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Oregon Congressman Bob Smith, Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, has asked that the United States Army not to award a contract to breach southern Oregon's Elk Creek Dam, arguing that Congress needs time to provide further direction regarding the project and requesting that an Enviornmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the project be performed.

Smith, who convened a hearing of the House Agriculture Committee in Medford, Oregon on November 13, has questioned the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' proposal to breach Elk Creek Dam, at a cost of $8 million, in order to provide for fish passage, when trapping and hauling the fish around the dam could provide comparable benefits for only $150,000 per year.

Yesterday, Smith wrote John Zirschky, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, questioning the Army Corps' authority to breach Elk Creek Dam, and requesting that an EIS be performed on the project before a contract for breaching the dam is entered into. The entire text of Smith's letter to Zirschky follows this release.

"As evidenced by the lack of explicit authorization, I do not believe that Congress intended that the Corps virtually destroy the dam by excavating 50,000 cubic yards of embankment, 15,000 cubic yards of concrete, and 500,000 cubic yards of other material, thereby leaving a hole 5-8 stories high and 75 yards wide. This chasm would not only breach the dam, but it will also make completion of the dam, as directed by Congress, virtually impossible," Smith wrote Zirschky.

"Federal law mandates the study of the environmental risks posed by disposal of such a vast quantity of material, as it clearly represents a major government action. In light of the fact that dismantling Elk Creek Dam would waste $108 million already invested in the dam, and that excavation potentially poses great risk to the environment, I strongly urge you to instruct the Corps to delay completion of a contract until further study of less destructive methods of fish passage may be performed and until Congress has a chance to explicitly direct the Corps' actions in the next appropriations cycle. Furthermore, I ask that you instruct the Corps to complete an EIS as required by law under these circumstances," Smith wrote.

Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District, which includes most of eastern, central, and southern Oregon - including Jackson County - in the U.S. House of Representatives.