Fishermen, Conservationists Welcome Early Win in Case Over Outlaw Dam

Eugene – Steamboaters, WaterWatch of Oregon, and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermens’ Associations yesterday welcomed a U.S. District Court decision denying a bid by Winchester Water Control District to dismiss a lawsuit over harm to protected Oregon Coast Coho salmon caused by the District’s dam in the North Umpqua River. Judge Karin J. Immergut ruled against the District’s claim that state agencies rather than a federal judge would more appropriately decide the question of harm to federally protected salmon. Judge Immergut also denied the District’s claim that the lawsuit was somehow too late, and supposedly violated the statute of limitations for legal action against harm or “take” of protected salmon. The groups’ challenge against the outlaw dam now proceeds.

The allied fishing and conservation organizations allege that the 130-year-old Winchester Dam – maintained to provide motorized flatwater boating exclusively for about 110 private landowners – causes damage to struggling salmon runs while impeding access to 160 miles of high quality habitat. The groups’ challenge deals specifically with the ongoing delay, injury, or killing of protected Coho by the dam’s outdated and poorly maintained fish ladder, by the District’s repeated unpermitted dam repair activities, and by the overwhelming number of leaks through the crumbling wood, concrete, and steel structure. The groups are represented by Earthjustice, a public interest environmental law firm, with local counsel from the Law Office of Karl G. Anuta PC.

Selected quotes from the decision:

P 13: “In sum, resolution of this case only requires a determination of a question within this Court’s competence: whether the Winchester Dam is causing take of Coast coho. That issue does not require expertise specific to an administrative body, and Plaintiffs may prove their case without reliance on state agency expertise or issues requiring uniform enforcement.”

P 17: “[T]his Court finds there is no staleness concern because the take of Coast coho continues to occur. Additionally, any judgment from this Court would advance—not impede—finality given the ongoing uncertainty about the dam.”

Jim McCarthy is the Southern Oregon Program Director for WaterWatch of Oregon. To learn more about this issue or other dams or barriers in southern Oregon Contact Jim today. jim@waterwatch.org

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