MEDFORD, Ore. (CN) – A federal judge on Wednesday issued a preliminary injunction to stop demolition of a century-old dam on the Rogue River. Residents claimed the Jackson County Commission’s destruction of the historic Gold Ray Dam would hurt coho salmon spawning grounds, bald eagle habitat and dozens of great blue heron nests.
Two of the three plaintiffs, who live next to the wetlands by the dam, claimed the county began demolishing the pumphouse without permits.
In the federal complaint, lead plaintiff Charles Boyer called the 106-year-old Rogue River dam a “historic site of national significance.”
It used a defunct propulsion system in an architecturally significant pumphouse which the county acknowledged is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
The dam has not generated electricity for decades. Its former owners gave title to the County to create a park, according to the complaint.
The county justified the demolition as a way to avoid having to improve a fish ladder. But removing the dam would allow predators of salmon fry to migrate upriver to prime salmon spawning areas, the plaintiffs say. The predator, the northern pikeminnow, has not yet made it above the dam, the plaintiffs say.
Upstream landowners depend on the artificially raised water tables created by the dam to fill their wells, the residents say. And over the past century, a vast wetland area has developed above the dam.
The complaint cites a description of the wetlands from the book, “Oregon Natural Areas,” which describes the area above the dam as “bayou-like with an intricate maze of channels and sloughs densely clothed with vegetation. There are at least three distinct plant communities or habitat types. This diverse riparian site provides excellent wildlife habitat. The most notable species include nesting osprey and northern bald eagles and a great blue heron colony with 34 active nests.”
The plaintiffs asked for a permanent injunction, and punitive damages.
U.S. District Judge Owen Panner will hear arguments on Monday, July 26.
The plaintiffs are represented by Jack Swift of Grants Pass.