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Demolition of Savage Rapids Dam begins

ROGUE RIVER — Construction crews this week are literally doing to Savage Rapids Dam what wild salmon advocates have been doing figuratively for decades — punching holes in the Rogue River's biggest fish-killer.

Workers unceremoniously began the demolition of the 88-year-old dam Monday, jackhammering away part of one of the dam's eight concrete bays and trucking away the debris.

The work took about a half-hour Monday afternoon as the dam's replacement — a new pumping station for delivering Grants Pass Irrigation District's water — hummed in the background.

"It's another milestone, for certain," said Bob Hamilton, project manager for the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which is overseeing the $39.3 million project.

The milestone passed unseen by WaterWatch attorney Bob Hunter, who has worked with the bureau and GPID for 21 years to solve the dam's fish-passage woes that tapped it as one of Oregon's worst wild-fish impediments.

Hunter was at the site along the Jackson/Josephine county line most of Monday morning with camera in hand, but left before Slayden Construction Group crews manned the hydraulic excavator.

After years of haggling over how best to resolve the dam's fish-passage and water-right woes while still keeping GPID in the irrigation business, the other shoe finally dropped.

"The great thing is, they actually did it," Hunter said. "There's kind of a sense of relief that it's actually happening, after all these years."

A demolition crew hired by Slayden to do the removal of six of the dam's eight concrete bays is set to reach the site next week, Hamilton said.

That work is expected to last two to three weeks, Hamilton said.

The temporary coffer dams that divert the Rogue around the demolition site are scheduled to be breached in October, exposing the final two dam bays for removal from the river's south bank.

"What's really going to be dramatic is when the coffer dams are removed and the river flows through again," Hunter said.

The new pumping plant, which went on line last month, allows GPID to continue water deliveries while complying with a federal court ruling that it no longer use the dam for irrigation diversion.

Rogue water remains diverted through the dam's south fish ladder.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.