Balm Grove, Gales Creek, News

Balm Grove Dam removal project to begin in August

Preparations to remove the Balm Grove Dam will begin this month, the Tualatin River Watershed Council announced Tuesday. 

The news comes after the county board of commissioners awarded the contract to remove the dam and complete adjacent work to Biohabitats, Inc in late July

Clean Water Services, Biohabitats, Inc, and Altap Restoration LLC are the main agencies and businesses who will complete the work. 

“Over the next month, you may notice site preparation activities such as placement of equipment and materials on the property, fencing installation, marking off access and staging areas, and the installation of erosion and sediment control measures,” Scott McEwen, Executive Director of the Tualatin River Watershed Council said in an email.

Once this preparation is complete, Gales Creek will be diverted around the work area via a bypass channel, and fish and wildlife found during the work will be relocated safely either upstream or downstream, McEwen said. 

In mid-September, the dam will be broken apart piece by piece, removing a cultural and historic landmark that defined recreation in Gales Creek for nearly a century. Along the way, the concrete dam proved a barrier to sensitive native fish species, several local and state environmental agencies have said.

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 early twentieth century advertised dances at Balm Grove. Aerial photography showed the dam in existence in the mid-1930s, but an exact construction date remains unknown.

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. 

As early as September 1998, the Tualatin River Watershed Council identified the Balm Grove Dam as one of four “priority artificial obstructions” at the time to fish passage in the Tualatin River Basin, along with a dam on Clear Creek, a Gales Creek tributary, the Scoggins Dam that created Hagg Lake, and the Finnegan Hill Dam on McFee Creek, a tributary of the Tualatin River.

 In mid-September, contractors will begin demolishing the dam by breaking up the concrete, piece-by-piece, and removing the debris. You can expect to see the increased presence of contractors onsite and hear construction-related noises during daytime hours, which may include Saturdays.

During construction, local residents can expect to see contractors, and hear construction noise during daytime hours, including on Saturdays. 

Those with questions were asked to contact Clean Water Services spokesperson Shannon Huggins at 503-681-3600 or by email at hugginss@cleanwaterservices.org.

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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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