Next Boardman dam removal approaches

Sep 26, 2014

Mold in Barb Reneaud's home along the Boardman River.
Credit Tom Carr

The second of three Boardman River dams will likely be removed next year. As those plans move forward, some residents fear a replay of 2012.

A malfunction during the first dam removal caused a flood that swamped homes and cabins. Engineers say a repeat is highly unlikely.

At the same time, a lawsuit sparked by the flood is still moving forward.

"Horrific" flood

The Boardman River flows lazily past Phil and Barb Reneaud's property. They'll never forget the day two years ago next month when the river overflowed and thigh-high water rushed onto their land.

"We had railroad ties, we had huge trees, we had our neighbor's dock,” Barb Reneaud says. “You could stand there and watch people's picnic tables. It was horrific."

They now live in a mobile home on their property. That’s because mold has grown out-of-control in the house Reneaud has lived in for 40 years.

She says the flood caused the mold.

"I try to stay away from it and when I do go over I wear a mask because immediately, my lips burn, my eyes burn. It's just a really strange feeling," Reneaud says.

The Reneauds are among 13 property owners who sued for damages. Some have settled, but most are headed for trial. Many neighbors say property values have dropped.

A judge has dismissed most claims against the local governments that own the dams, although contractors are still being sued for millions.

Attorney Peter Worden represents Molon Excavating.

“The goal here is to try to compensate people fairly for what occurred on October 6, 2012,” he says.

However, he adds, some of the plaintiffs are suing for problems not related to the flood. Worden says that’s not necessarily intentional.

“But a common phenomenon in these situations is that people don’t really notice these settling issues, or mold issues, or water intrusion issues for years and years and years until there’s a major event.”

Worden will be meeting with plaintiffs next week in an ongoing effort to settle as many claims out of court as possible.

Credit Boardman River Dams and Restoration Project

Repeat below Boardman Dam?

So will this all be replayed when the next dams are taken out? Not likely, planners say.

For one thing, they will use a different method this time to draw down water levels before the dam is demolished.

“The primary drawdown will be by pumping the water around the dam rather than going in and removing the dam up front,” says Carl Platz, project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps will oversee the next phase.

Another fear that persists is whether taking out the dams will make for more severe floods in the future.

Not so, says Platz.

“The dams along the Boardman River were constructed as power generation structures,” he says. “They were not intended to be used for flood risk management. In some respect these dams actually pose a flood risk because of their aging and deteriorating condition.”

So for now, architects and engineers are finishing plans to take out Boardman Dam. And then they’ll continue downstream to take out Sabin Dam and modify Union Street Dam.

They figure – in spite of setbacks from the flood – long-term property values will go up when they turn the Boardman back into a coldwater trout stream.