Design work is underway for the dam and former mill pond at Bates State Park, and construction bids could be let out in fall 2020, according to Scott Nebeker, a park development administrator for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.
About $200,000 was included in OPRD’s last biennial budget for design and permitting of the pond project, he told the Grant County Court on July 24. OPRD has budgeted another $3 million for the project in the next biennium, he said.
Public information meetings will be held next year as the final design work proceeds, he said. Construction could begin in spring or summer 2021, but those dates are highly dependent on project funding and permitting, he said.
The county court recognized the importance of the historic mill site and popular recreation pond in 2007 when it backed a $400,000 loan so the Bates Park and Museum Foundation could purchase the former town and mill sites for a future park.
The state purchased the land from the county for $406,612 in lottery funds, and plans for a state park progressed quickly under Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s “park-a-year” plan.
But a political division formed between passionate supporters of culture, history and recreation and equally passionate supporters of native fish and free-flowing streams.
The latter were concerned about protecting two native fish — spring chinook salmon and summer steelhead. Steelhead are listed under the Endangered Species Act. Critics of the project said the existing fish ladder was not adequate for migrating fish and stream water from Bridge Creek was warmed by the pond, threatening downstream habitat for cold-water fish.
Construction of the new state park began in June 2011. About 4,000 trees and shrubs were planted and a riparian area with a meandering stream was restored where Bridge Creek enters the Middle Fork. The park opened three months later and was soon seeing 20,000 visitors a year.
The issue of the pond and dam, however, was not settled. Collaborative meetings of stakeholders and interested parties led by a hired facilitator took place three times in 2016 without reaching a consensus.
A stronger consensus developed over the next year and a half, and sideboards were established for a meeting in March 2018. The group agreed at the meeting to move forward with an option that called for constructing a bypass channel on the west side of the pond so most of the stream flow from Bridge Creek could reach the Middle Fork without warming up.
The option also called for shrinking the pond’s footprint while deepening the pond by dredging as much as six feet of silt. The fish ladder would be replaced with a new one that is less steep and has larger pools.
Nebeker told the county court July 24 the goal is to improve fish passage while creating a pond that is not static and clogged with algae. OPRD hired Interfluve Engineering of Hood River to conduct modeling for the design work. So far the modeling says the bypass channel design will help keep water temperatures down, he said.
Francis Preston told the court she saw a helicopter drawing water from the pond recently to fight a nearby forest fire. She emphasized the importance of having water sources like Bates Pond and Olive Lake for firefighting purposes.
Dennis Bradley, the regional OPRD manager, said Bates State Park was seeing more visitors. Matt Rippee, OPRD’s Eastern District manager, said plans are underway for more electrical hookups at the park.
Grant County Judge Scott Myers, who played a pivotal role in support of a state park, said the site needs more shade.