Springfield Millrace reconstruction under way.
SPRINGFIELD - The city drained the old millpond near downtown last spring. What greeted reporters Monday was the bottom of the old pond, which has been baking in the sun ever since: Thirty acres of cracked earth, beer cans, old tires, discarded wood and what city engineer Yan Seiner descriptively called "black muck."
Hard to believe, but in a year's time this same spot could surge with salmon.
The city invited the media out Monday to show off the progress in restoration of the Springfield Millrace, a $9 million project to reclaim a waterway that is fundamental to Springfield history. Against a backdrop of heavy equipment tearing down structures and scouring out the earth, officials painted a picture of the millrace's future as a clean, cool, natural waterway that will be a refreshing respite for people and fish.
Plans began long ago
The millrace is part of a nearly five-mile waterway on the city's southern side, running from the Middle Fork of the Willamette downstream to the river's main stem. Elias Briggs, the city's founder, hand dug the millrace in 1852, powering the gristmill and timber and agriculture industries that gave rise to the city. In 1901, Booth-Kelly Lumber Co. bought the millrace and dammed it, creating the millpond.
Now the city wants the free-flowing waterway back. Forest products giant Georgia-Pacific Corp. donated a majority of the millrace to the city in 1985, which is about how long officials have been planning to convert the waterway into something that would be friendly for native fish and other wildlife while fitting into the city's plans for recreation and environmental education.
With $2 million in city storm-drainage funds and the rest from federal sources, the city broke ground last year on the project and set about redoing the inlet to the millrace and replacing invasive plants with native species.
Trails envisioned someday
Now comes the heavy lifting - literally. The city is starting to take down all the industrial remains that stand in the way of a more natural waterway: Dams, concrete retaining walls and old buildings.
"It's pretty awesome," Seiner said, as he stood near a dinosaur-like excavator that repeatedly bit into a 4,000-square-foot carpentry shed next to the millrace, systematically tearing it to pieces. "We are taking an industrial site and working very hard to make it very welcoming to people."
The excavator placed the remains of the demolished building in sorted piles for recycling - sheet metal here, reusable wood there. Once this area next to the Booth-Kelly center is complete, it will be a large, grassy amphitheater perfect for picnics, Seiner said.
The long-term vision for the millrace area includes a system of trails, but there's no funding yet and those plans are years away.
But sometime next summer, the city plans to reopen the millrace at the upstream point, allowing the water back in and with it, salmon and other native fish.
As Seiner pointed east along the millrace, more excavators at the base of the dry streambed could be seen chewing into the ground, removing silt that had piled up in the water for years.
When the work is done, the streambed will have more places for fish to rest and rear their young, and areas where the water will flow at different depths and velocities.
The millrace historically blocked salmon passage with nonnative predators, poor water quality and a dam with a dysfunctional fish ladder, said Jeff Ziller, a technical advisor with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. With the restoration, there will be a "free-flowing stream" with a clear shot for fish traveling in either direction, he added.
Other fish expected to swim the waterway include sculpin, dace, redside shiners and Pacific lamprey.
The millrace, in fact, could be "perfect habitat" for the lamprey, a species of concern due to shrinking numbers. The lamprey can grow to two feet long, and can live seven or eight years in the river, Ziller said.
"This is probably a big plus for them," he said. "It's really important for them to have good habitat for a long period of time."
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|Title Annotation:||City/Region; Officials hope the link to the city's history will become a refreshing destination for residents and native fish|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Aug 24, 2010|
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