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Residents weigh in on proposed plant.

Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

COTTAGE GROVE - About three dozen area residents turned out Wednesday night to offer mostly open-minded, even friendly, questions and testimony about a proposal to build a hydroelectric power plant at an existing dam on the Row River, the source of the city's drinking water.

Symbiotics LLC, of Rigby, Idaho, has applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build an 8.3-megawatt hydroelectric plant at Dorena Dam southeast of Cottage Grove. The hearing before the state Water Resources Department is required in order for Symbiotics to receive a preliminary permit for the project. If it receives the permit, Symbiotics will have three years to satisfy government requirements for a final permit to begin construction.

Vince LaMarra, a partner in Symbiotics, explained the company's plans to retrofit the 57-year-old dam, a gravel facility with a concrete arch spillway. It intends to build a "small footprint" (35 by 40 foot) powerhouse, a 350-foot line of 9-inch steel pipe, a concrete-lined channel, and a 15-kilovolt underground transmission line.

Dorena is one of 250 dams around the country that Symbiotics has proposed retrofitting with small hydro plants.

"In our minds, these projects are green power, replacing fuel power," he said. "True, there's a financial incentive, but there's also an environmental ethic that we're proud of."

Several audience members were pleased about that.

"Thanks for not proposing a coal-fired power plant in our community," said area resident Don Sevilla.

Cottage Grove resident Katy Owens made a similar point. "Strategically, it's really stupid for the United States to continue relying on gas and oil from other parts of the world."

Cottage Grove resident Hal Connor expressed concerns about the impact of the project - and its construction - on the quality of the city's drinking water.

"Over the years, we've had some troubles with turbidity and other things," he said. "Cottage Grove's water is of great importance, and I hope that will be a big consideration. I also think, frankly, there should be some benefit for this area. Simply generating power at Dorena and putting it on the grid shouldn't be enough."

LaMarra said he expected that the power would be sold to local consumers.

"I doubt that power will ever leave this area," he said, explaining that PacifiCorp is expected to be its primary utility customer.

In response to questions from the audience, company officials estimated that Symbiotics would spend about $8 million to build the plant and gross about $1.1 million in annual sales of electricity, assuming a 6 cent per kilowatt wholesale price. LaMarra said the company had been in business for four years, but is composed of principals who have built other power plants.

He said the plant would use existing "run of the river" water releases, rather that manipulating flows to generate more power at peak demand periods.

Audience members also asked if the project would do anything to restore salmon runs stymied by the dam's construction 60 years ago.

But a spokesman for the state water department said there had never been major salmon spawning much above Dorena Dam, which was sited where it was because of a natural barrier identified by state fisheries officials at the time.

Mary Grainey, the state's hydroelectric program coordinator, said the state Water Resources Department will continue to take testimony on the Dorena dam proposal throughout the summer. Written comments can be submitted to the department at 725 Summer St. N.E., Suite A, Salem, OR 97301-1271.
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Title Annotation:Government; A company tells residents that the small hydro project would provide "green" power
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 16, 2005
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