The Fishhawk Lake Reserve and Community has reached a settlement with the state over the draining of a reservoir in 2019 that allegedly killed more than 30,000 fish.
Fishhawk Lake, a private community surrounding the reservoir near Birkenfeld, agreed to pay $250,000 and the community’s insurance carriers will cover the remainder of the $3.7 million settlement.
Patrick McGillivary, Fishhawk Lake’s former board president, and Jim Dahlquist, an employee, were charged with misdemeanors in connection with the reservoir draining and fish deaths.
Fishhawk Lake also agreed to construct a new fish ladder and spillway and repair an underdrain by 2023. The community pledged to develop a water quality plan by 2025.
“The last two years have been exceedingly challenging and we are looking forward to having the dispute with the state behind us so we can continue the progress made toward improving the ecosystem of this beautiful little lake,” Jeanne Scilley, Fishhawk Lake’s board president, said in a statement disclosing the settlement.
Earlier this year, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality announced a $439,200 penalty against the community, and while several natural resource agencies were planning to file separate claims, specific amounts were never disclosed. The agencies eventually came together and acted as one in discussions with Fishhawk Lake over the settlement.
According to Lauren Wirtis, a public affairs specialist for the state Department of Environmental Quality, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s concerns reflected the bulk of the $3.7 million settlement.
The reservoir was formed in the 1960s by an earthen dam and is considered state waters. A drainpipe through the dam feeds into Fishhawk Creek and the Nehalem River. The community drained the reservoir in August 2019 to fix a broken drain in the dam.
State biologists estimated that more than 30,000 fish were killed, including more than 20,500 endangered coho salmon.
Fishhawk Lake disputed the claim that the drawdown of the reservoir led to a large loss of fish.
“DEQ’s goal is certainly to protect air, land and water in Oregon,” Wirtis said. “Our goal is to make sure when people do projects like this, it is not about us saying ‘yes’ or us saying ‘no,’ it is about figuring out how we can do projects in ways that protect the environment.
“So we always want to make sure that groups and agencies feel comfortable reaching out to our staff. We provide technical assistance and if there is any way we can help people be in compliance.”
According to Fishhawk Lake, the majority of the settlement will be put toward restoration projects.
“FLRC is committed to building upon its record of environmental stewardship and will seek to work collaboratively with the state moving forward,” Scilley said.