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Whitewater park faces bureaucratic boulders

Whitewater enthusiast Steve Kiesling is being realistic about the chances of winning state approval for his proposal to engineer a whitewater course in the Rogue River near Gold Hill. That's a good thing, given the obstacles in his way — and we're not talking about rapids.

Bureaucracy can be just as immovable as the boulders Kiesling wants to install in the river, along with removing 300 cubic yards of the riverbed.

The good news is, the state and federal agencies that must weigh in on the plan — and there are several — are already discussing it. State officials in Salem hold a monthly meeting to take a preliminary look at proposed projects that will require permits.

It's also a good sign that no one is saying the whitewater park can't be done. And the Legislature and the Oregon Community Foundation have provided key funding for preliminary work on the project, indicating solid support.

The project would involve installing artificial rocks at strategic locations in the stretch of rapids known as Mugger's Alley to create the water effects competitive kayakers crave. The goal is to create a whitewater park and training center that would attract international competitions, which could be a huge boon to the economy. The local economic development agency SOREDI estimates the the annual impact could be $7 million.

Certainly, backers of this plan should be required to ensure riparian zones are not damaged and salmon migration is preserved. But the agencies involved, from the Department of Environmental Quality to the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, should do everything they can not to throw up unreasonable obstacles to what appear to be relatively modest changes to the natural river features that are already there.

Removing 300 cubic yards of rocks from the riverbed sounds drastic, until you realize that when Gold Ray Dam was removed from the Rogue it exposed 400,000 cubic yards of sediment. Any work done in the channel to build the whitewater park will be temporary, and the result should still be a healthy river.

Still, Kiesling may find that navigating the bureaucracy is every bit as challenging as running Mugger's Alley.