Make the McKenzie Connection!

Will there be a way home?

Leaburg Dam has provided a sense of security since it was built in 1928. With a road on top, it provides access to the south bank of the river for residential property owners, a commercial blueberry farm, the Leaburg Fish Hatchery, a boat launch, and Lloyd Knox Park. Homeowners say they always felt pretty secure, echoed by one who feels “living on Leaburg Lake is a dream come true.”

In a report that dominated the Eugene Water & Electric Board’s December 6, 2022 meeting the utility’s general manager called for permanently discontinuing electric generation at the Leaburg Hydroelectric Project. As a result, the century-old collection of a power canal, generators, and lake would become obsolete and unnecessary.

By taking out Leaburg Dam, Frank Lawson, the utility’s general manager, said the McKenzie River would return to an unobstructed flow. Along with that change, “management is not recommending EWEB construct a new bridge to replace the dam’s cross-river transport,” he added. Instead, the utility is calling for “a utilization of the Goodpasture Bridge and road improvements.”

Affected area residents are opposed to eliminating the lake by removing the dam. Meeting on the second Tuesday of the month in Vida the “Save Leaburg Lake” group has assembled several talking points to support their position. The spokeswoman for the group is Nadine Scott a local realtor who says financial impacts are already having an impact.

When showing a home, “we now have to disclose you may not have waterfront property after all,” Scott says. For example, she points to three area properties that have drawn out sales, as well as being devalued. One has been on the market for 97 days with no offers - combined with an asking price decline from $850,000 to $725,000. Two others also dropped in price and had been for sale for 67 and 195 days with no takers. “This is not normal for lakefront properties,” she feels.

Another lakeside resident, Linda Williams, says she fears “the impact on the environment would be catastrophic.” Draining the lake Williams says would change the natural landscape with the potential of killing endangered fish and wildlife that had adapted to the area for over 100 years. Bald Eagles, Osprey, Blue Heron, Beaver, Canadian Geese, and a variety of ducks, are on her list of concerns as well as lamprey. “I strongly believe there are sturgeon living in Leaburg Lake,” she feels.

EWEB says its decision to decommission the Leaburg Hydroelectric Project was the result of a “Triple Bottom Line” evaluation. On one side of that process was the possibility that continuing operations at Leaburg would pencil out to $117 per megawatt-hour cost versus purchasing electricity elsewhere for $30 to $50/MWH.

Other considerations included lowering damage risks from floods or earthquakes and how impacts of climate could affect river-based electric generation.

As a former president of the McKenzie River Chamber of Commerce, Scott says she’s concerned about impacts on the area’s tourism-based economy. Many people who’ve visited the area had a lake visit as part of their itinerary, she notes by referencing traffic counts of 100,000 cars per year using the road over the dam.

Jim Russell of the Whitewater Ranch has said timber salvaged after the Holiday Farm Fire amounted to over 2,000 log truckloads going across the dam. Based on a typical timber rotation cycle he warned “In another 25 to 30 years another 2,000 trucks will need to come out.”

In addition, Russell noted they harvest 650,000 pounds of blueberries and have a goal of increasing output to a million pounds per year. Those volumes generate about 100 trips each using 52 to 53-foot-long refrigerated trucks. Russell said those “are real numbers of the impact of what these decisions are.”

“Having the dam and road is our only means of ingress and egress to property owners,” Williams says. “If any resident needed emergency response, evacuation, home health care, or deliveries, this is our only road for our necessary services.”

To maintain access to the south side of the river, Lawson has recommended developing an alternative access via the Goodpasture Covered Bridge. That alternative, however, is height limiting for refrigerated blueberry trucks and would require constructing a connection to Leashore Drive.

Jake Grisley of Leaburg Dam Road has told EWEB he and his neighbors could be adversely impacted both by road widening and the potential condemnation of their properties. He’s cited the area’s topography and bedrock as construction challenges in addition to impacts to the public water supply lines buried under Leashore Drive.

Any decision will need to be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that licenses hydropower in the U.S. As EWEB has learned in the past, the process of modifying a license can take decades.

A solution, Williams fees, would be for EWEB “to deed the dam, Lloyd Knox park, and the baseball field to Lane County or the State of Oregon, to maintain.”

Whether that will happen before the Leaburg Dam’s Centennial in 2028 remains in question.


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