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EWEB facing critical decisions for Leaburg hydropower project

LEABURG: Economic, environmental, and societal impacts were all on the minds of people who filled McKenzie Fire & Rescue’s Leaburg Training Center last Tuesday. During an hour and a half of audience questions, the Eugene Water & Electric Board’s commissioners and staff heard from local residents worried about the fate of Leaburg Lake and its dam and powerhouse.

Two outcomes are up for review. The first would involve ways to bring the project back online to generate electricity. The second option calls for shutting it down.

Either choice would be a “legacy decision” according to utility manager Frank Lawson. “We know that anything we do with the Leaburg Canal is going to be long-lived,” he said. “It’s everything from lake levels to impacts on fish and wildlife to property values.”

Richard Tracy, a Leaburg property owner for some 20 years, said the impacts are already here. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered EWEB to drain the canal due to safety concerns. Tracy said that caused him to lose the water rights four years ago that were necessary to sustain his raspberry and blueberry bushes, orchard, garden, and koi ponds. “Somebody took it from me and I haven’t been able to get it back,” he said. “In another four or five years we probably won’t be alive and that’s very disappointing.”

Part of the shutdown option could involve returning the area to what existed before the project was constructed. That would include the removal of the canal, powerhouse, and dam as well as the restoration of creeks that had been intercepted.

That prospect caused one property owner along Leaburg Lake’s shoreline to ask how his tax lot would change. Most likely, he was told, his parcel would expand across the bottom of the lakebed to the point of the river’s new highwater mark near the highway.

EWEB Generation Engineering Supervisor Mark Zinniker said people should expect to receive a survey for them to comment on plans by late 2022. He expects the staff to present their preliminary results in a draft report to the utility’s board in October.

Regardless of which way the EWEB commissioners finally decide to proceed, Zinniker said people shouldn’t expect the Leaburg Canal area to return to a “new normal” until 2030.


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