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Stimson mill gets spotlight at dam-upgrade meeting

The pastoral shot shows a view of Stimson Lumber, which is one of the sites that would be flooded to expand the dam under one of several propsed plans. The focus of Monday night’s meeting at Scoggins Valley Church was supposed to be the possibility of building a new dam that might flood out the church and other properties in that area.

But the spotlight quickly turned to Stimson Lumber mill and what residents claim is its long history of heavily polluting the area.

Stimson would be the biggest occupied site flooded out by a new dam and the government would first need to build a new mill for the company at a different location.

Forest Grove resident Dale Feik, who attended the meeting, said he likes that option because he thinks a new mill might keep Stimson from polluting as much as he claims it does now.

Several local residents suggested that pollution problems could kill the new-dam option. “You’re going to put a dam over what I think is a Superfund site,” said local resident John Minick. “Have you considered the cleanup costs of that?”

Contacted about such comments after the meeting, Stimson Chief Executive Officer Andrew Miller refused to respond in depth due to the fact that he was not at the meeting so did not hear the complaints. He offered the following statement:

"If people want to bitch about Stimson, call Andrew. He will meet you at the plant site and you can point out your complaints in the presence of a DEQ official who will be asked to join us."

Tom VanderPlaat, water supply project manager for Clean Water Services (CWS), noted that Stimson treats its own water and is monitored by Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality.

VanderPlaat also said an analysis of the new-dam option would reveal whether the cleanup cost would be too high.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JILL REHKOPF SMITH - Chris Regilski, Reclamations Pacific Northwest dam safety liaison, brought out inundation maps at the end of Monday nights meeting so people could see whether their homes would be in the path of Hagg Lakes water should the current Scoggins Dam break during an earthquake.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation, which manages dams in the western United States, needs to upgrade seismic protection on Scoggins Dam so it won’t breach during the magnitude nine or higher earthquake being predicted for the Pacific Northwest.

Over years of considering how to do this, Reclamation officials have focused primarily on bolstering the current dam with dirt or concrete or both, but once they realized that would cost $300 million they began looking for a less expensive option, including building a new dam a half-mile east of the mill, where the narrower valley width would require less than half the construction work and material.

If chosen, that option could flood or otherwise affect 22 actual dwellings and about 30 properties, depending on the new dam’s height, according to VanderPlaat.

Chris Regilski, Reclamation’s Pacific Northwest dam safety liaison, said that if the downstream dam option turns out to be the most effective and efficient, the government would not resort to eminent domain until it had attempted negotiating buyouts with property owners.

In the uncertainty before the analysis of different dam-upgrade options finishes at the end of 2016, VanderPlaat suggested people continue with regular home maintenance projects — “fix your plumbing” — because even if the new-dam option is chosen, construction won’t happen for another 5 to 10 years. But avoid bigger investments such as building a new shop or other structures that might get flooded out, he said.

Minick said his family plans to forge ahead with building a shop and other long-term plans anyway because they are convinced it will take at least $250 million just to clean up the Stimson site. He believes that cost alone will make the new dam too expensive.

Some meeting attendees were less worried about the fate of their property than the long-term timeline itself, given that scientists say an earthquake could happen at any moment — in which case the current Scoggins Dam is expected to breach and flood out the valley and any inhabitants caught on low ground. One man ominously challenged the idea of years of government study going on “while the unsafe dam is still sitting there.”