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Tigard dam removal leaves mess

Without lake, neighbors say animals have no place to go
by: Jaime Valdez Craig Brown (left) and Ernie Coufal examine what was once Merestone Pond in Tigard. The city removed a beaver dam in the area, which state officials say might have gone against state guidelines.

The city of Tigard may have violated state guidelines when it removed a decade-old beaver dam along Summer Creek last week.

The dam swelled Summer Creek over the last several years to form a large pond located off Southwest 121st Avenue near Merestone Court. But debris from the dam began clogging culverts, culminating in the city's decision to remove the long-standing beaver dam last Thursday.

State wildlife officials say the city may have broken the rules by removing the dam out of season and impacting the wildlife and fish in the area.

'If we had been contacted we would have been more than happy to give them some advice about how to address their concern while trying to keep the beavers,' said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife conservation biologist Susan Barnes. 'Beavers are so valuable for the system.'

Lake-front property no more

For 10 years, the area around Merestone Pond has been home to otters, several species of fish, nesting bald eagles and a family of beaver.

Today, the pond is little more than a trickle of water surrounded by mud.

'This is a swamp now,' said Craig Brown, whose house used to back up to the pond. 'When the weather warms up this is going to stink,' he said.

The reason for the dam's removal, according to Tigard Public Works Director Dennis Koellermeier, was because there were no beavers left in the pond.

'These beavers had moved out of Merestone Pond,' Koellermeier said. 'Left unattended the dam started to deteriorate. When we had some high water, the dam breached and it plugged up a major culvert on 121st Avenue. That essentially de-watered the pond.'

Neighbors say beavers were rebuilding

The dam has long been a problem for the city, Koellermeier said, occasionally releasing debris and clogging nearby culverts under 121st Avenue.

With the culvert clogged and the beavers gone, Koellermeier said, the city decided to remove the dam.

The city did not notify the state that it planned to remove the dam, Koellermeier said, because the amount of work was 'literally hand-picking sticks and stones and mud out of the creek.'

'The volume was clearly below the permitted volume that we would have needed permits for,' he said.

The city did not contact the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife either because there were no beavers to be impacted, Koellermeier said.

But neighbors take issue with that argument, saying that the beavers were actively working to reconstruct their dam as recently as two weeks ago, until city crews came with a backhoe to remove it.

'They were trying to rebuild it,' Brown said. 'But now that the city has devastated it, they aren't going to come back now.'

Koellermeier said that the partially rebuilt dam wasn't from beavers, but from neighbors themselves, trying to re-flood the creek and return the pond.

If the beavers did return to the area, Koellermeier said, the city would not remove them as long as they didn't clog the city's culverts or sewer lines, which the dam did when it began to break apart, he said.

'If the beaver came back to rebuild the dam, we have a policy of not actively chasing live beaver colonies out of the city. But we can't have them blocking culverts and washing out sewer lines.'

Did the city break the rules?

The impact of the dam's removal is still being determined by state officials. One of the main issues is whether sediment kicked up from the removal drifted downstream impacting fish. According to Fish and Wildlife guidelines 'in-water work' is not allowed to begin before July 15.

'There is a question about if the removal laws apply here and if there are not water-quality issues,' Barnes said.

The sudden change in water levels has also stranded many large fish in a small portion of the creek. Many fish have tried to swim out of the shallow water and gotten stuck in the mud, unable to move or breath, neighbors said.

Brown said he has wrestled the sometimes 5-foot-long fish - which include trout, catfish and coy, an invasive species - back into the stream to save them.

'My waders are still muddy from going out there and handling these fish,' Brown said. 'And that's not OK.'

'They'll be there until they die,' he said.

Neighbors are also worried that a nesting family of bald eagles will leave the area, and they have already seen many species of birds, turtles and river otters disappear.

Brown and other neighbors along Merestone Court plan to bring their concerns to the City Council on June 14.

'Wildlife is devastated (and) our home values are going to drop immensely (and) the fish are getting stuck in the mud,' Brown said.

'(The city) didn't contact anybody. They didn't care that they (hadn't) contacted anybody and they weren't going to stop.'