The long-awaited demolition of two dams blocking the Olympic Peninsula's Elwha River will happen a year sooner than expected, courtesy of federal stimulus money.
The long-awaited demolition of two dams blocking the Olympic Peninsula’s Elwha River will happen a year sooner than expected, courtesy of federal stimulus money.
Olympic National Park, where the dams stand, will get $54 million to accelerate related projects, pushing the start of removal work from 2012 to 2011, the U.S. Interior Department said Wednesday.
That’s welcome news to the National Park Service, the nearby Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, who has worked for years to see the dams come down.
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This is just the sort of thing that should get money from the $787 billion stimulus package, Dicks said.
“It’s going to put people to work. It’s also going to improve the salmon runs. I think it’s a classic project,” said Dicks, who had lobbied the Park Service to direct some of the new money to the dam.
The money will pay for work that needs to be done before dam removal can begin, including flood protections for property near the river, new water systems for nearby residents and a paper mill, and a new tribal fish hatchery, according to the Park Service. The work is expected to create 200 jobs by 2010.
“It’s been a long time coming, and we’re on a roll and it’s going to happen,” said Olympic National Park Superintendent Karen Gustin.
Nationwide, the Park Service doled out $750 million. Other national parks in Washington will see a share, but far less than Olympic. Mount Rainier will get $3.3 million and North Cascades National Park will get $518,000, much of it going to building maintenance and repairs of storm damage from winter floods.
Supporters of the Olympic project hope it will restore once-legendary salmon runs destroyed when the Glines Canyon and Elwha dams blocked access to 70 miles of habitat.
Dam removal was approved by Congress in 1993, and demolition had been scheduled for 2009, until rising costs for the $308 million project delayed the start to 2012. With work expected to start in 2011, the dams could be gone by 2013 or 2014.
The new schedule was welcome news to Robert Elofson, natural-resources director for the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. The tribe has worked to see the dams removed for 25 years, with an eye toward bringing back salmon that were vital to the tribe.
Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or firstname.lastname@example.org