Clatsop County and Warrenton will work together on how to dissolve the Skipanon Water Control District and disperse two remaining flood control structures.
The water district, whose board decided last year to request dissolution from the county, oversees a flood control structure at Cullaby Lake that would go to the county. The district’s Eighth Street Dam in Warrenton would go to the city.
County Manager Don Bohn organized a joint meeting between the two governments Friday to find a collaborative way to dissolve the district and dispense assets.
Warrenton city commissioners were wary of taking on the Eighth Street Dam, which Mayor Henry Balensifer equated to “a piece of ground right now in terms of its operational use and maintenance.”
The water district and the city once had a partnership with Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce to replace the aging dam with a single-lane, $1.2 million bridge funded by the Bonneville Power Administration as part of a fish habitat rehabilitation project.
But some at the city and in the community questioned the water district’s argument that the dam was no longer useful for flood control. The city, which at one point declared an emergency over the issue, also spent more than $110,000 on an attorney in a failed bid to claim ownership of the dam.
Warrenton is still awaiting the final results of a hydrological study from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers related to the dam’s effectiveness. The city would like those results before taking on the dam, Balensifer said.
“I would hate to just take ownership of something that frankly we don’t have a clear picture of,” he said. “It just feels like it’s being dumped, so to speak.”
Collin Stelzig, the city’s public works director, said it appears from the study so far that the dam is a useful water control structure during periods of low to exceptionally high tides, but less so during 100-year flood events. The water district, expecting the dam would be removed as a hazard, kept the tide gates up since 2012 and took them off in 2015.
The dam has become more important with proposed development nearby, such as Jason Palmberg’s Chinook Village RV Park. The family of Mark Kujala, a county commissioner and former Warrenton mayor, also owns significant amounts of land nearby and has contemplated residential development.
Balensifer, Commissioner Mark Baldwin and Commissioner Pam Ackley agreed that having the county organize an election of affected voters on whether to dissolve the water district would be the best way forward.
“I don’t think it would make November, so it would happen sometime next year,” Bohn said of an election. “And then that would, I guess, give us a little time to figure out some of the other details.”