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Environment, Energy and Transportation

Army Corps investigating potential chemical waste at Elk Creek Dam site near Rogue River

NWP-22-0XX Inspection confirms complaint of buried waste at Elk Creek Dam.
Courtesy of Portland District, US Army Corps of Engineers
US Army Corps of Engineers
The Elk Creek project was initiated in 1971, the third dam authorized by Congress to be built in the Rogue River Basin. After years of litigation the project was stopped in 1988, leaving an incomplete dam 83 feet tall, one-third its designed height. Once construction was stopped, plans were developed to restore Elk Creek to a free-flowing creek. The dam was notched on Aug. 17, 2008, and the Corps diverted Elk Creek into the new channel on Sept. 15, 2008.

An investigation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found buried waste that could include barrels containing chemicals at the site of the scrapped Elk Creek Dam along a tributary of the Rogue River.

The Army Corps released a report about the Elk Creek Dam site on Wednesday. In it the agency confirmed that drums that may have contained chemical waste were found buried, dating back to 1988.

The Elk Creek Dam was never completed. The site is located near the community of Trail in Jackson County. The investigation started after a former employee of a company the Army Corps contracted with, filed a complaint with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

In the complaint, the former employee of the Obayashi Corporation described the company burying 50-100 barrels containing antifreeze, motor oil, solvents and grease in a pit, 100 yards from Elk Creek.

The report warns of potential impacts to ground and surface water around the creek that feeds into the Rogue River. The Corps said the agency needed to do more investigation to determine the level of contamination from the buried waste.

The Obayashi Corporation could not be reached. A spokesperson for the Corps could not provide information about Obayashi’s response but said the unpermitted waste is being treated as a criminal investigation.

The Army Corps was fined $30,814 by ODEQ for “establishing and operating an unpermitted solid waste site disposal site” for the buried waste. The agency is attempting to hold the contractor responsible for the cleanup.