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Dam upgrade search adds mill-flooding option to future Hagg Lake scenario

NEWS-TIMES FILE PHOTO - Both Stimson Mill and Scoggins Valley Church (left) would be flooded if a new dam were built a half mile east of the mill.The Stimson Lumber mill, Scoggins Valley Church and about 30 homeowners along Amick Lane and Mill Road near Hagg Lake would be bought out and flooded (or made inaccessible by flooding) according to a new option — one of nine now being considered — for upgrading seismic safety and water-storage capacity at Scoggins Dam.

“One concept newly under consideration would inundate new areas downstream of the existing dam and could impact your property,” read an Oct. 27 letter to neighbors from Clean Water Services, Washington County’s water management agency, which went on to note that, “Studies, reviews and other processes will continue for several years before any preferred alternative is selected.”

Andrew Miller, Chief Executive Officer of Stimson Lumber, said he’s fine with at least considering the option of building a new dam a half-mile east of his mill. Logically, it’s the ideal spot for a dam in that area, he said. That’s because the valley is much narrower there and would require only a 1,000-foot wide dam — far less than the current, 2,700-foot wide dam.

“This is taxpayer money,” he said. “I think it makes sense to consider all options that will result in the lowest-cost objective of increasing the water supply in Washington County.”

Government agencies would have to build a whole new mill for Stimson in a different location before they could breach the current dam and flood the valley — and his current mill. They would also have to arrive at buyout agreements with the roughly 30 property owners in the area.

“At this point there’s a lot of information to be collected,” Miller said. “It’s possible the difference between a [reinforced] dam and a new dam is so substantial that a new mill for Stimson could be built nearby at taxpayer expense and still save some money.”

Various dam strengthening options have been considered since 2007, when scientists discovered the likelihood of a 9 magnitude or greater earthquake hitting the Pacific Northwest and federal Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) officials realized they needed to upgrade the dam’s seismic protection.

In 2011, BOR began studying alternatives. Two years later, its preferred alternative would have bolstered the current earthen dam by widening its crest and adding huge amounts of soil to its east wall. But because that was so expensive, they decided to look again for less expensive options, said Chris Regilski, BOR’s Pacific Northwest Region Dam Safety Liaison.

Then last December, a new federal appropriations bill required BOR to finish its alternatives analysis for Scoggins Dam by the end of 2016. The agency began a value-planning study to consider a number of new ideas, working in partnership with Clean Water Services (CWS).

CWS has been pondering how to upgrade Scoggins Dam for nearly 15 years, but for an entirely different reason: water supply. Looking at growth forecasts, county and city leaders realized their growing populations would need more water. For years they talked with BOR officials about getting permission to raise the dam so it could hold more water.

During the value-planning study, the idea of building a dam a half-mile east of Stimson came up. It’s one of nine options BOR is now considering — many concerned with ways of altering the foundation or design or dimensions of the bolstering efforts at the current dam, Regilski said.

The new dam option is also a “very preliminary concept” that is just at the appraisal level, he said. But to do an appraisal, BOR needs to study whether the idea makes sense economically. And that’s why the letter went out to neighbors this week, he said. “I didn’t want to start looking at that and having people who live in the area hearing about it and not understand what we’re doing.”

“There’s a lot of unknowns,” said Stimson CEO Miller. “Economics could crush that [option] right out of the box, but you can at least collect that information.”

Whatever option is chosen, it won’t happen overnight despite warnings from disaster-preparedness experts that “the big one” could happen at any moment. As the Clean Water Services letter to neighbors states, the studies and meetings and many other processes needed to upgrade the dam “will take at least five to 10 years before any construction begins.”

An informational meeting on the topic will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9, at Scoggins Valley Church, 50085 S.W. Scoggins Valley Road.