GOLD HILL — Don Colcleaser fears he and his fellow Gold Rey Estates residents have much to lose, depending upon whether and how nearby Gold Ray Dam is removed this fall from the Rogue River just upstream from their upscale neighborhood.

GOLD HILL — Don Colcleaser fears he and his fellow Gold Rey Estates residents have much to lose, depending upon whether and how nearby Gold Ray Dam is removed this fall from the Rogue River just upstream from their upscale neighborhood.

Silt and gravel from the upstream impoundment might limit Colcleaser's ability to irrigate landscaping that he, as a retired nursery owner, says could cost in the six-figure range to replace.

Dump trucks rumbling down John Day Drive would pose a safety risk, he says, and the rechanneled river could turn the neighborhood into a flood zone.

The upland wetlands that Colcleaser believes are a natural buffer against any pollutants discharged from Medford's water-treatment plant five miles upstream also might disappear, potentially threatening the neighborhood water supply.

"I'm concerned not just for today, but what's going to happen 10 or 15 years from now," Colcleaser says. "We have more to lose than anybody in this project."

Colcleaser is one of several residents of the development of 50-some homes who plan to bend the ears of Jackson County officials as they enter the home stretch in deciding whether to remove the 106-year-old dam from the river.

He and others plan to attend Tuesday evening's public hearing in White City with the hopes of convincing county officials to leave the dam intact or making the county provide assurances that their worst fears won't come true.

"If they take it out, there will be changes for us here no matter what," resident Edna Moore says. "My concern is the quality of life."

County officials say they plan to meet with Gold Rey Estates residents this week to understand their concerns and find ways to allay them if the county Board of Commissioners votes as early as next month to remove the dam.

John Vial, the county's roads and parks director who is overseeing the project, says a draft environmental assessment includes computer models that point to no serious negative environmental impacts during and after the dam's removal.

Should the commissioners vote to remove the dam, county officials expect to have contingency plans in place should reality not follow their computer models, Vial says.

Rivers like the Rogue are "very, very dynamic systems and you can't predict exactly what's going to happen," Vial says. "You have to consider the what-ifs, and the downstream landowners are some of those what-ifs.

"Chances are, something will go wrong, and we have to be ready for whatever that something is," Vial says.

The Rogue Valley Council of Governments will take public comment through March 26 on the environmental assessment, which concluded that dam removal is the best and least expensive alternative for the county to address fish-passage issues there and its financial liabilities.

The county has a $5.6 million contract with Slayden Construction Group to analyze the potential impacts of dam removal and follow through with its removal should the commissioners vote to do so.

An alternate proposal in the study is a $69.7 million option to restore the dam, add a modern fish ladder that meets state and federal standards, build a new powerhouse, and restore the dam's hydropower capacity.

Wild-fish advocates have lauded the removal of what state biologists call one of the 10 worst impediments to wild salmon in Oregon. Keeping the dam also could prove to be a financial liability to the county, which took ownership of the structure when Pacific Power decommissioned it in 1972.

Should the county not move forward with dam removal this year, it would lose what's left of a $5 million federal stimulus grant awarded specifically for conducting the EA and removing the dam. The county also has a $1 million grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board toward removal and any unforeseen expenses.

Removing the dam would allow the Rogue to flow unimpeded for 157 miles for the first time since 1904.

The assessment details expected impacts to upstream wetlands, the flow of gravel and sediment downstream from the old impoundment and other issues.

Some residents in Gold Rey Estates believe the dam is as good as gone, and they're concerned about exactly how that will happen.

Some are concerned that gravel flowing out of the old reservoir could damage or disable a single pump submerged in the river that feeds a large, U-shaped artificial lake. Around the lake are a few dozen homes, including the Colcleasers', which they bought in 2004.

Residents pay their homeowners association to operate and maintain the pump and the lake, from which they draw water for their lawns and gardens. Colcleaser says if moving gravel covers the pump or cuts off access to the river, the financial losses could be astronomical for him and his neighbors.

"That would be total disaster," he says.

Vial says he shares the Gold Rey Estates residents' concerns about truck traffic on John Day Drive. Under current scenarios, part of the dam's concrete will be removed from the south bank and either trucked out on Gold Ray Road or loaded onto railroad cars, Vial says.

Much of the concrete cut from the dam's north end, as well as the abandoned powerhouse and fish ladders, would be stacked to create a gradual drop over a piece of the river bed that was blasted away during the original dam construction, Vial says.

The remainder would be hauled by truck over John Day Drive — a county road that Vial would be in charge of repairing in his position as roads and parks director.

The hollow-core dam contains about 2,000 cubic yards of concrete, Vial says.

Gold Rey Estates residents want to make sure county officials realize they may incur unanticipated liabilities should the dam's removal alter the neighborhood and its infrastructure.

"When it's all said and done, we want to make sure we're still protected and that we can still function," Colcleaser says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail at