ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) — The Fishhawk Lake Reserve and Community in Northwest Oregon is contesting a $439,200 penalty from Oregon for allegedly killing over 30,000 fish after draining the reservoir in 2019.
The lake, considered state waters, is held back by an earthen dam built along Fishhawk Creek in the 1960s for a private community. A drainpipe through the dam feeds into the creek and eventually the Nehalem River. The homeowners association argues that the state mandated a repair of the drainpipe and was kept informed of the entire process, The Astorian reported.
A state investigation blamed the draining for sucking fish through the drainpipe and increased turbidity downstream, dumping sediment and depleting the dissolved oxygen in the water. State biologists estimated that of the 30,391 fish were killed, more than 20,539 were endangered coho salmon.
The state Department of Environmental Quality fined the homeowners association and required a water quality management plan and a schedule for becoming compliant with environmental standards.
The homeowners association’s lawyers have called for a hearing to fight the Department of Environmental Quality’s penalty. The lawyers argue that instead of being reckless, the association drained the lake in response to pressure from state agencies to repair the drainpipe and avoid a total dam failure in a major flood.
The lawyers also say the association timed the draining of the lake with the low-flow period of Fishhawk Creek, adhered to the state’s in-water work period and installed curtains downstream of the dam to decrease turbidity. They blamed the state for a lack of follow-up regarding permitting and other guidance, and said the association “reasonably believed the state’s silence to be tacit approval of its plans to proceed.”