PGE officials discuss North Fork Surface Collector

by: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - Construction is under way at Promontory Park.Construction is under way on a massive surface collector that will float on the North Fork Reservoir.

More than 20 Estacada citizens crowded into the Country Restaurant & Lounge to hear updates on the project from Portland General Electric officials during the Chamber of Commerce’s lunch forum on Thursday, Jan. 16.

Officials explained that the company went through a federal relicensing process to continue operating its hydro projects on the Clackamas River for the next several decades.

The license was contingent upon the company making several environmental improvements to aid fish passage and survival.

PGE biologist Tim Shibahara explained to the crowd that the Clackamas River hosts three endangered species — coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website states that under the Federal Power Act, a license must be obtained from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate hydropower facilities.

As explained on the site, “That act authorizes NOAA Fisheries Service to issue mandatory improvements for fish passage and to recommend other measures to protect salmon, steelhead, and other ESA [Endangered Species Act]-listed fish.” (

“We have to do it. That’s all there is to it,” Tony Dentel, PGE’s park operations manager, told the crowd of the North Fork Surface Collector.

The company has engaged in several costly projects in recent years to aid fish passage on the Clackamas River.

In 2012, PGE temporarily closed and drained Faraday Lake, in part to dig a channel through the middle of the lake to keep water temperatures from rising to harmful levels for fish.

A new adult sorting facility was built near North Fork.

The first-of-its kind facility allows biologists to separate nonhatchery from hatchery fish without the use of nets or anesthesia.

The North Fork Surface Collector will be the company’s biggest project to date toward fish passage on the Clackamas.

During an Estacada City Council meeting in October, Shibahara compared the surface collector to a “very large barge, as large as City Hall.”

Officials estimate the project will cost around $35 million.

“This will be the largest single project that we’re planning as a result of our new FERC license,” Steve Corson of PGE’s corporate communications told the Estacada News in June.

“The surface collector will float on the surface of North Fork Reservoir above the North Fork Dam, and will use pumps to create a surface current that will attract downstream migrating juvenile fish into a large V-screen where they will be safely captured in a transport pipe and conveyed through the dam to enter a newly-completed downstream fish pipe and safely travel seven miles to the River Mill Dam tailrace, where they’ll be released to continue their migration downstream,” Corson continued.

by:  ISABEL GAUTSCHI - Nicholas Loos, plant manager of PGEs west-side hydro projects, gives an overview of what the North Fork Surface Collector will do during an Estacada Chamber lunch forum on Thursday, Jan. 16.Shibahara admitted that surface collectors are a “phenomenon of the northwest” and that the North Fork Surface Collector will be only the sixth or seventh such facility constructed in the United States.

“We’re not untested or unproven,” Shibahara told the crowd on Jan. 16. “We have learned so much from other people’s mistakes. We’re not on the cutting edge or bleeding edge of science.”

Several citizens expressed concern over the project’s impact on recreation in the area.

The surface collector is being constructed in Promontory Park.

Nicholas Loos, plant manager of PGE’s West Side Hydro projects, explained that the surface collector will be built on dry land before being launched into the water.

Construction is expected to be completed in late 2015.

PGE officials have informed Estacada leaders that the Promontory boat ramp, store and marina will be closed during construction, but the Promontory Campground will stay open.

In October, Dentel told the City Council that the company planned to improve the lower boat launch to provide a recreational alternative to the main boat launch.

At the moment, the lower launch is undeveloped and usually used as a place to remove logs and debris.

Dentel said in October that the company plans to improve the ramp, and add parking and a restroom. But parking will still be limited.

During the Jan. 16 lunch, Dentel said the company plans to improve the lower boat ramp this spring so that it can be in use by May.

Loos confirmed later that the company plans to have the improvements, parking additions and restroom in place by the time the reservoir opens for fishing in May.

Tamara Pugh, owner of the Estacada Figaro’s Pizza, said she worries that would-be tourists will choose to go somewhere else, given last year’s closure of Faraday Lake and this year’s restrictions on recreation at Promontory Park.

“Everybody loses a little bit,” Pugh said.

Estacada city councilor Michele Conditt said that it will be important to convey the message that there will be an open boat launch at Promontory Park and that the area will be restricted, but not closed.

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