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U.S. Senator Ron Wyden visits the Big Creek Dam Project site in Newport, Oregon

This month, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden visited Newport, Oregon’s Big Creek dams. The Senator’s visit is imperative as Big Creek dams are the sole water source for Newport. And it is in danger of failure.

Both dams were built over 60 years ago and currently there’s evidence of internal seepage. The dam was deemed unsafe by the Oregon Water Resources Department Dam Safety Engineer in 2021 which requires immediate repairs or a pause in use.

Immediate failure of the Big Creek dams would be catastrophic. City Engineer Aaron Collett said that upon failure, water levels could reach up to 19 feet high in under one minute. Water that high and moving fast would wash over the water treatment plant, rendering it useless, before washing away homes and putting citizens at risk. The economic damages in Newport could exceed $1 billion.

The price tag for replacing the dams is high as well. Costs are projected to reach $100 million, putting a strain of up to $10,000 per taxpayer in Newport without federal assistance. The economic burden on citizens in the surrounding area are why Mayor Dean Sawyer and state Rep. David Gomberg has lobbied for federal funding towards the dam replacement for years now.

Senator Wyden saw the upper dam first-hand and listened to presentations from Mayor Dean Sawyer, City Engineer Aaron Collett, state Rep. David Gomber, and Dig Deep CEO Tia Cavander regarding the necessity for this dam replacement. In response, he assured city leaders that the Senate is committed to providing funding for this project.

In fact, the 2022 Water Resources Development Act promises $60 million for the dam project. The bill cleared the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and was adopted by the House. Now on its way to the Senate, Wyden said “It’s full-court press…This is job number one.”

The information from this blog post is provided by the Newport News Times. To read more about Senator Wyden’s visit and the Big Creek Dams, check out this Newport News Times article.

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