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Tide changes in Eighth Street Dam controversy

City commissioners Pam Ackley and Mark Baldwin review details of an apartment project appeal Tuesday night after listening to a report on tide gates. (Cindy Yingst)
Friday, March 9, 2018

State law precludes Warrenton from replacing the old tide gates removed from the Eighth Street Dam in 2015, the state’s top fish passage expert told city leaders Tuesday.

“We have a long history in this state of fish-passage challenges,” said Greg Apke, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s statewide fish passage program leader.

Oregon’s laws governing tide gates date to 1859, when it became a state. All older tide gates – and Oregon has more than 1,200 -- were grandfathered in. But anytime there is significant change, such as new construction or major maintenance, the state has the authority to require fish-friendly tide gates or their total removal, Apke told city commissioners.

“There’s not a tide gate in Oregon that doesn’t pose a problem for fish,” he said. “I’ve yet in my 25 years seen a tide gate that is fully compliant with fish passage.”

And the gate connected to the Eighth Street Dam was among the worst, with top hinges that make fish passage nearly impossible, he said.

“Tide gates have a function, don’t get me wrong,” Apke said. “I might represent fish, but I’m also a farmer.”

He recently worked with a farmer in Nehalem who had to replace a structure that failed on the McDonald Slough, soaking his fields with salt water.

The solution was a $1.5 million fish-friendly structure that opens quicker, stays open longer and doesn’t close until the tide reaches a certain level.

Bruce Francis, vice chairman of the Skipanon Water Control District, listened to the presentation and was pleased with what he heard.

The city of Warrenton has been at odds with the water control district and thwarted the district’s plans to have the dam decommissioned and replaced by a bridge. Some city leaders are concerned about residents who experience flooding and erosion during high tides.

“We’re waiting for the city to come to us and say, ‘OK, we’ve realized the error of our ways and we wish to work with you,’” Francis said. “We’d like to get back to where we were two years ago, getting the MOU (a memorandum of understanding, or agreement) to remove the dam and put in a bridge and then we’d dedicate the bridge to the city and get out of there.”

Some residents contend that the tide gates need to be maintained to keep from flooding the town, he said. “The structure is more of a hindrance and liability than it is an asset.”

The state is especially interested in structures that block fish movement in estuarine areas, Francis said, because there are abundant fish active here year-round.

Apke’s office is in the process of mapping all the state’s tide gates and their effectiveness.

“It’s something near and dear to my heart and to our state’s heart and that’s fish passage,” Apke said. “I’m here to bring some solutions. … The issue here in this community is no different than the issue in every other neighboring community.”

The Eighth Street Dam was built in the early 1960s by the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Tide gates lock into place when tides are high, stopping the flow of water upstream. But as the tide subsides, the gates open, allowing water captured above it to freely flow out.

The Eighth Street Dam’s tide gates first were operated in an open position in 2002, kept in an open position beginning in 2012 and removed by Skipanon Water Control District in 2015.

Warrenton has other tide gates in the city that are aging and need maintenance.

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