Plans in the works to restore Cline Falls

February 18, 2017
Plans in the works to restore Cline Falls

Owen Twitchell can hear the roaring Cline Falls each day from his nearby home in Redmond.

The local artist often walks down to view the scenic falls in the Deschutes River, but recently he has been disappointed to still see an old dam and decaying equipment and structures from the former hydroelectric Cline Falls Power Plant.

“They are thundering and beautiful falls, but then in the background is a chain link fence and an abandoned power station with graffiti all over it,” said Twitchell, 54. “It is such a bizarre and ugly contrast.”

But it could be gone by summer.

The former dam site was the focus of a lawsuit between PacifiCorp — the parent company of Pacific Power, which leased the site — and Central Oregon Irrigation District, which owns the land.

The irrigation district sued PacifiCorp in 2014, alleging the power company polluted the area, violated a 100-year lease and failed to maintain the site. PacifiCorp agreed to pay the irrigation district $1.65 million as part of a settlement in December 2015. The money is being used to remove the dam and clean up the site.

Preparing for the cleanup has kept the affected partners busy for more than a year.

Craig Horrell, the irrigation district’s manager, said plans are in place to have the concrete dam and related structures removed by late summer or early fall.

“It will look beautiful after it is all said and done,” Horrell said. “Those falls will be back.”

The irrigation district partnered with the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council to complete the dam removal. The two are working to secure county, state and federal permits.

Permits are needed from the federal Bureau of Land Management, which owns one side of the river, and the Department of State Lands, which approves work in state waterways.

In addition, Deschutes County had to sign off on the work because the old equipment is considered historically significant. The county recently approved a demolition permit, but with the understanding that a kiosk would be built along Cline Falls Highway that explains what the site meant to the development of the community.

The irrigation district is also working with the state Department of Environmental Quality to clean up contaminants, such as carcinogenic PCBs, pentachlorophenol and polychlorinated biphenyls.

No contaminates are in the river, but the buildings are filled with oils and asbestos, Horrell said. “It’s all able to be cleaned up.”

Horrell said the irrigation district is interested in giving the property back to the public. The Cline Falls State Scenic Viewpoint is already nearby.

“We would like to clean it up and give it back to the state or county, which are better at managing people on public lands than we are,” Horrell said.

Ryan Houston, executive director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, said the entire project is expected to cost nearly $2 million. With $1.65 million coming from the lawsuit settlement, the partners are seeking grant funding to cover the additional costs.

In October, the partners requested a $240,000 grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. They are expecting to hear back from the state board in April.

If the grant is awarded, the entire project will be on schedule, Houston said.

“As of now we are on track to do the removal work in the summer or early fall provided the funding is successful,” Houston said.

Twitchell, who has lived near the river for the past 17 years, is eagerly waiting for the “junk” to be removed from the river. Cline Falls is a popular area where visitors and locals regularly to stop by to soak in the sight, he said.

Twitchell believes returning that section of river back to its natural state would make the falls even more impressive, and be a benefit to the many spectators.

“There are just a lot of good reasons to restore these falls,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820,

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