Balm Grove, Environment, Gales Creek

Balm Grove Dam removal rescheduled for summer of 2022

Plans to move the stalled Balm Grove Dam removal project forward are back, the Tualatin River Watershed Council announced Wednesday evening.

In an email, TRWC Executive Director Scott McEwen said that removal of the decades-old concrete dam will begin this summer. 

“Removal of the structure and restoration of the site to its natural state will open several miles of instream habitat, including nearly 30 miles for winter steelhead and more than 80 miles for cutthroat trout. It will also contribute to wider efforts to restore fish populations and benefit other wildlife,” he said. 

A neighborhood meeting is planned at the site later this spring, located on the historic Balm Grove property in what’s become known as the Balm Grove neighborhood on Balm Grove Loop. No date has been given yet for the meeting.

The former Balm Grove Tavern on May 5, 2020. Photo: Chas Hundley

A three-foot high concrete structure, the dam created a popular swimming hole in the Gales Creek community, and the property was host to a tavern and park for decades, formally and more informally into the early 2000’s. Newspaper clippings from the earliest 20th century advertised dances at Balm Grove.

Wooden boards known as “flashboards” were added to the dam annually to raise the water level in the summer, bringing the height of the dam to seven feet when in place.

Plans to remove the dam have been in place for years, with the site purchased in 2016 by Clean Water Services with the help of funds from the Portland Metro Regional Government and the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District. But those plans stalled in 2019 and again in 2021 when various funding schemes fell apart. 

This time, money for the project has been committed in bits and pieces from several agencies and groups, and the partners behind the project—affiliated through the coalition known as Tree For All—are hoping that a $270,000 grant application submitted to the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board is approved in late April.

A similar, larger grant application for the project was rejected last year by OWEB. 

According to Clean Water Services spokesperson Julie Cortez, funding will come in the form of a $100,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, $70,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, $100,000 from the Portland-area Metro government, and $50,000 from the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District. 

Those with immediate questions were asked to contact Clean Water Services’ Shannon Huggins by email at [email protected] or by phone at 503-681-3600.

Listed as project partners in the dam removal project are the Tualatin River Watershed Council, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Metro, Intertwine Alliance, Northwest Steelheaders, Trout Unlimited, Tualatin Riverkeepers and Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District.

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Chas Hundley is the editor of the Gales Creek Journal and sister news publications the Banks Post and the Salmonberry Magazine. He grew up in Gales Creek and has a cat.

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