News Releases

Inspection confirms complaint of buried waste at Elk Creek Dam

Portland District
Published March 31, 2022
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers technicians confirm the presence of buried waste at Elk Creek Dam, 26 miles north of Medford, after digging test pits, Jun. 18, 2019. The Corps has made several investigations and waste removal efforts at the defunct dam site in the past; however, a 2019 complaint by a former contactor employee to ODEQ shed light on improper disposal by the Obayashi Corporation, the contractor the Corps used during construction.

“While the Corps and the Army Criminal Investigation Division work to hold the responsible party accountable for waste disposed on site, we’re continuing efforts to protect human health and the environment under the Superfund law (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA))”, said Tom Conning, Portland District spokesmen. “We take environmental protection seriously and will either cleanup the site itself or compel the responsible party to do so.”

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers technicians confirm the presence of buried waste at Elk Creek Dam, 26 miles north of Medford, after digging test pits, Jun. 18, 2019. The Corps has made several investigations and waste removal efforts at the defunct dam site in the past; however, a 2019 complaint by a former contactor employee to ODEQ shed light on improper disposal by the Obayashi Corporation, the contractor the Corps used during construction. “While the Corps and the Army Criminal Investigation Division work to hold the responsible party accountable for waste disposed on site, we’re continuing efforts to protect human health and the environment under the Superfund law (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA))”, said Tom Conning, Portland District spokesmen. “We take environmental protection seriously and will either cleanup the site itself or compel the responsible party to do so.”

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers technicians confirm the presence of buried waste at Elk Creek Dam, 26 miles north of Medford, after digging test pits, Jun. 18, 2019. The Corps has made several investigations and waste removal efforts at the defunct dam site in the past; however, a 2019 complaint by a former contactor employee to ODEQ shed light on improper disposal by the Obayashi Corporation, the contractor the Corps used during construction.

“While the Corps and the Army Criminal Investigation Division work to hold the responsible party accountable for waste disposed on site, we’re continuing efforts to protect human health and the environment under the Superfund law (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA))”, said Tom Conning, Portland District spokesmen. “We take environmental protection seriously and will either cleanup the site itself or compel the responsible party to do so.”

An excavator digs a test pit at Elk Creek Dam, 26 miles north of Medford, Jun. 18, 2019. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers technicians’ inspection confirmed the presence of buried waste after a former contractor employee’s complaint with Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ), at Elk Creek Dam. “While the Corps and the Army Criminal Investigation Division work to hold the responsible party accountable for waste disposed on site, we’re continuing efforts to protect human health and the environment under the Superfund law (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA))”, said Tom Conning, Portland District spokesmen. “We take environmental protection seriously and will either cleanup the site itself or compel the responsible party to do so.”

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.

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.

Army technicians investigation confirms the presence of buried waste after a former contractor employee’s complaint with Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ), at Elk Creek Dam. Elk Creek Dam is 26 miles north of Medford, Ore., and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District published its site inspection report on Mar. 30, 2022. In it, the Portland District concluded it would need to investigate the site further to determine the full extent of contamination. There are potential impacts to ground and surface water in the area.

The Corps has made several investigations and waste removal efforts at the now deauthorized dam site in the past; however, a 2019 complaint by a former contactor employee to ODEQ shed light on improper disposal by the Obayashi Corporation, the contractor the Corps used during construction.

“While the Corps and the Army Criminal Investigation Division work to hold the responsible party accountable for waste disposed on site, we’re continuing efforts to protect human health and the environment under the Superfund law or Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act CERCLA,” said Tom Conning, Portland District spokesmen. “We take environmental protection seriously, understand our legal responsibilities and will either cleanup the site itself or compel the responsible party to do so.”

In his complaint, the former contractor stated, “In winter of 1988 or thereabout, 50 to 100 drums or barrels containing antifreeze, 30 weight motor oil (some used, some new), solvents from parts washing, and/or grease were disposed of in a pit. Fluids were observed squirting out of the barrels as they were being dumped in the pit and buried.”

Corps and ODEQ personnel subsequently met with the former employee at the site and identified the approximate location of the buried drums. Afterwards, the Corps excavated 26 test pits and found nine to 10 crushed drums, which were leaking fluids. The Corps has formed a project team to continue the CERCLA process, specifically a remedial investigation that would include a risk assessment.

Notwithstanding the Corps’ efforts to investigate the site further and hold the responsible party accountable, ODEQ fined the Corps for establishing and operating an unpermitted solid waste disposal site. The Corps is working to resolve the State’s concerns.

The full site inspection report is available here: https://www.nwp.usace.army.mil/Locations/Rogue-River/Elk-Creek/.

Background: The 1962 Flood Control Act authorized the Corps to build Elk Creek project, which the Corps started in 1971. After years of litigation the Corps halted construction in 1988, leaving an incomplete dam 83 feet tall, one-third its designed height. After construction stopped, Corps officials developed plans to restore Elk Creek to a free-flowing channel and notched the dam on Aug. 17, 2008.

– 30 –


Contact
Tom Conning
503-403-9378
edward.t.conning@usace.army.mil

Release no. 22-011

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