The $250 million question

Will Leaburg continue to generate hydroelectric power?


August 11, 2022 | View PDF

The Eugene Water & Electric Board commissioners are preparing to make a decision on the fate of the Leaburg Lake later this year.

EUGENE: The Triple Bottom Line (TBL) financial analysis report delivered to the Eugene Water & Electric Board last week was based on social, economic, and environmental factors. The TBL is focused on what the future could hold for the mothballed Leaburg hydroelectric project. After weighing the potential the utility's staff offered four options.

Decommissioning the facility and returning the area to conditions before it was built could come at a projected cost of $250 million, Mark Zinniker, EWEB's generation engineering manager, told the board at the August 2nd meeting. It would cost a similar amount to rebuild the Leaburg canal and return the project to full service he noted.

Two other alternatives - a partial return to service or beefing up the canal to carry off stormwater - were also tied into what the projects could cost, at $180 million.

Under the economic portion of the TBL study, factors that were considered included cost/rate impacts, impacts on financing and bond ratings, and power price risk reductions. Public safety, local economics, and recreation were part of the social impacts reviewed. The third category, environmental, covered items ranging from water quality or carbon footprints to aquatic resources.

During discussions, board chairman John Brown wondered if there might be some other large costs that should also be factored in. What he had in mind was potentially upgrading the Walterville Canal too since both projects had been part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing process that he said had cost "from $140 to $150 million."

As part of a public outreach process, EWEB has been holding bi-monthly "upriver listening sessions" at Lloyd Knox Park. Commissioner Mindy Schloss-berg reported she had been at some of those meetings where local residents "overwhelmingly expressed love for the lake."

One of those residents, Gerry Aster of Vida, gave testimony at the meeting. She called Leaburg Lake a "distinct and valuable feature within the McKenzie Valley, not only to community members but to visitors as well. "

Aster felt that "If Leaburg Dam is removed and the lake is lost, there will be an enormous impact to an area already struggling from the results of the Holiday Farm Fire and its economic impacts to tourism," which she said is the primary industry in the McKenzie Valley.

No decisions were made at last week's board meeting but EWEB's staff said they intend to deliver a draft report to the commissioners at their October 4th meeting.

"Every time we get a presentation it gets a little more complicated," according to commissioner Sonya Carlson. "I always expect there's going to be more clarification at each iteration and it just seems like there's always some other twists."

Utility general manager Frank Lawson asked the board to give the staff more information on what they expected, asking whether they were looking for an overview or a specific recommendation.

Supporting a specific recommendation, Brown said, "We're supposed to reflect community values but I don't know anything about the technical stuff per se you guys do. Just because you give a recommendation doesn't mean we have to follow it."

A final report and a decision by the board should come in December. Lawson said he expected the process was likely to trigger a lot of internal debates within EWEB's staff members before they present a report that outlines a course of action. "You don't have to agree or disagree," he said. "You can always say you need more information."


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