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A ROCKY RELATIONSHIP.

Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard

LEABURG - Like the McKenzie River running up against the Leaburg Dam, criticism of the power company in this rural community is rising fast.

The president of the local river guides association says the Eugene Water & Electric Board doesn't care about river users or residents. At the same time, a local homeowner, outraged by EWEB's removal of trees along canals by Highway 126, recently circulated a petition and found 350 or so people were also upset.

All this has prompted Lane County Commissioner Tom Lininger to suggest that EWEB settle the rift by inviting a resident to sit on its board.

River guide Aaron Helfrich would welcome a little representation, but he's not holding his breath.

"They don't care what anybody says," said Helfrich, president of the McKenzie River Guides Association. "Their board is made up of people in Eugene, and I don't think the people sitting in their Eugene offices know what's going on up here."

Clashes between river users and the utility are nothing new in this forested enclave where the McKenzie is both a recreational wonderland and a vital EWEB power source for the Eugene-Springfield area.

But the latest round of criticism of EWEB projects - the removal of trees along canals by Highway 126 and the installation of rock barriers on the river near Walterville - got the attention of Lininger.

He criticized the utility's track record on the McKenzie and suggested that a local representative should join the board as a nonvoting member.

"EWEB's rural ratepayers deserve a voice on the utility's board ...," Lininger said in a written statement.

Sandra Bishop, EWEB's at-large board member, disagreed.

While the board's five members are selected only by customers in Eugene, they represent all 80,000 customers, including those in the McKenzie Valley, Bishop said.

Adding a board member from the valley, or anywhere else, would be unnecessary and expensive, Bishop said.

Bishop suggested that EWEB could better address local concerns by establishing a citizen advisory committee or by providing the technology to allow residents to participate in meetings without driving to Eugene.

"If we have a lot of customers who are saying that something's wrong, then something's wrong," Bishop said. "We should do whatever it takes to answer those customers' concerns, and that's what we will do."

EWEB spokesman Marty Douglass admitted that EWEB could improve communication with McKenzie residents.

"We need to do a better job of giving them adequate forewarning of things going on," he said.

Helfrich, of the river guides association, said that what angers him the most is the utility's installation of rock barriers - called chevrons - across the river near Walterville that force part of the river into the canal.

EWEB promised to leave a gap in the chevrons suitable for drift boat passage, Helfrich said, but the gaps are treacherously steep and shallow, sure to trip up all but the most experienced boaters.

"It's definitely a hazard, and it's going to leave a lot of (boaters) stuck there," Helfrich said Thursday, after making the run. "I had three calls this weekend from people who got stuck, and not everybody who got stuck here called me."

Douglass said EWEB has always maintained that, during low river levels, passage would be difficult, but he acknowledged the need to replant rocks in some places and said the work would be done by July, if not sooner.

In the meantime, boaters should take the river's south channel, Douglass said. But Helfrich said that will lead to overuse there during the upcoming fishing season.

Patrick Donnelly's complaint, on the other hand, deals with EWEB's stewardship of the land - specifically, a tree-lined stretch that was clear-cut along the north side of Highway 126 from the Leaburg Dam to Walterville.

"This was so serene up there," Donnelly said. "It looks like a bloody war zone now."

Donnelly said the clear-cut was excessive, and another resident, Joyce Brottlund, who was at Donnelly's place for a haircut, faulted EWEB for lack of fair warning.

"We need to know more about what's going to happen in the future," she said.

Trees and brush can lead to canal leakage, but EWEB has been lax over the years in clearing it away, Douglass said. All of the clearing was done on EWEB property, and it's being done to comply with federal regulations.

"Probably a meeting up there for the general public would have been a good thing to do," he said.

But not everyone is unhappy with EWEB.

Over the past month, Walterville resident Ed Taylor, 79, said he's dealt with flooding from an EWEB canal that leaked upriver. EWEB told him to keep track of his expenses for reimbursement, he said, and the utility has provided unlimited bottled water to address the flood-related contamination of his drinking water.

"They're definitely doing fair by me, I believe," Taylor said Thursday, as he pulled on a cigar and waded through ankle-deep water in his back yard. "I've had good cooperation with them all the time."

EWEB PROJECTS

EWEB officials, residents and East Lane Commissioner Tom Lininger will discuss EWEB projects at 11 a.m. today in the Leaburg Community Center on Highway 126.

For more information: Call 484-2411

CAPTION(S):

Fishing guide Aaron Helfrich inspects the passage through an EWEB-constructed chevron across the McKenzie River. The rocks divert water into a canal, but guides have had difficulty navigating through the shallow passage and the sharp rocks. "I don't think the people sitting in their Eugene offices know what's going on up here." - AARON HELFRICH, MCKENZIE RIVER GUIDES ASSOCIATION Thomas Boyd / The Register-Guard Ed Taylor, 79, slogs through his yard, which was flooded by a leaking EWEB canal in Walterville. EWEB is supplying him with fresh drinking water. McKenzie: Residents complain of EWEB's actions Continued from Page A1 Please turn to McKENZIE, Page A11 R e s o u r c e m a n a g e m e n t
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Title Annotation:Residents along the McKenzie River upset at EWEB's actions; General News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 8, 2003
Words:988
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