By BILL LUNDQUIST
PORT ORFORD An illegal breach of Garrison Lake Monday night destroyed thousands of rainbow trout, said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Biologist Russ Stauff Friday.
In recent weeks, ODFW had stocked the lake with 5,000 rainbow trout for what has traditionally been a childrens fishery.
Stauff said those fish have been lost, along with bird and amphibian nests in a vast area of wetland.
It was a pretty destructive act, he said, extremely destructive. A public resource was just hammered.
He said he would not waste thousands of dollars stocking the lake with fish again until the people of Port Orford could assure him that it would not be illegally breached again.
As for issuing state permits to legally breach the lake in times of flooding, Stauff said Mondays act has completely changed my take on it.
Stauff believes the lake was breached with shovels by two or three homeowners who had been threatened by rising waters during the winter.
It is highly likely that it was breached deliberately, said Stauff. It is exceedingly unlikely it was a natural breach.
He said there had been no large storms lately to raise the lake level, or wave action to break through the dunes standing between the lake and the sea.
By Friday, the breach appeared to be about the same size and volume as Pistol River. State parks officials were unavailable for comment Friday, but Stauff said they also believe it was an illegal breach.
Port Orford City Administrator Martha Weaver said someone called to say there were two people with shovels seen at the south end of the lake.
She said people are always trying to dig the lake out with shovels, but have little success.
She said there are rumors around town, but the city does not know if the breach was natural or man-made.
Stauff said, I was never comfortable with breaching the lake in the first place. A limited number of homes were affected by the flooding.
He said most of those homes were originally built with lower floors open to the lake.
As the lake went through a natural cycle of lower water, owners framed in the open areas and built rooms.
When the lake began to rise again, the owners made a lot of noise.
In what he called a knee-jerk reaction, state agencies issued permits for breaching, with the requirement that it be done no later than the middle of February.
By the middle of April, he said, the lake had been stocked with thousands of dollars worth of fish, and bird and amphibian nests were well established in the wetlands.
Stauff said a profile of the lake, done by Pacific State University, showed there was 9 feet of fresh water on top of heavier salt water.
He said all the fresh water has now been drained out of the lake, along with fresh water in the wetlands along the shore.
Those people really crossed a line with me, said Stauff. I was going along with it (the breaching permits), but this is a big resource damage issue.
He said if the breach had been made in the winter, the lake might have had time to refill itself.
It wont fill quickly now, he said. People will be looking at a decaying mud-flat for some time.
Regardless of the cost of the damage, however, Stauff said little can be done to the perpetrators.
He said none of the state agencies involved have an enforcement mechanism in place for such a crime.
This is different from poaching elk, he said. It falls between the cracks. It is difficult for us to quantify the damage. We cant do much.
He said if those who caused the damage can be identified, and no one in Port Orford is willing to name names, the most state parks will do is send them a letter asking them not to do it again.
This just appalls me, said Stauff. It rests with the people of Port Orford. If they like destroying natural resources, if they like looking at a decaying mud-flat, then by not saying anything they are telling the homeowners they like what they did.
He said it is common knowledge who breached the lake, because the same group of homeowners had been trying to raise funds to rent heavy equipment to make the breach.
He said when the lake is high enough, however, a breach can be started with a childs spade.
Stauff said previous conversations with people in the community led him to believe most people did not think the flooding was a serious problem.
He said the geological evidence shows Garrison Lake has cycled over the years between being an open bay, a saltwater lagoon and a freshwater lake.
He said if the tides and storms were right, the ocean could enter through the breached area, threatening all the homes on the lake for the benefit of a few.
The only thing Stauff can do is to save the taxpayers money by not restocking the lake.
He said having no lake, and no fish in it, may hurt the local tourism economy, but he was more concerned about providing an angling opportunity for the areas youth.
Just because some guys with homes in the wrong place did this, said Stauff, the kids wont have that fishing opportunity.
Weaver said the breaching didnt cause a lot of damage in the city.
She said the sudden outflow of water from the wetlands through the bridge on Arizona Street cracked the road, but not as seriously as it used to before the bridge was rebuilt. She was also concerned about what would happen to the wetlands.
Weaver said it looks like the city will get a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerces Economic Development Agency for an engineering study of the unstable dunes between the lake and the ocean.
She said the city is still looking for some of the $16,000 needed to match the grant.
The entire project will cost more than $100,000 and will utilize the best experts on dunes.
Weaver said the city hopes the study will help identify a permanent solution to the lake flooding, and will allow the city to update its water master plan.
Garrison Lake had been one of Port Orfords main water sources before it turned mostly saline. Weaver said the city is looking for a new water source. She said the city is also progressing on a new sewer outfall. The old one was destroyed years ago by El Nino storms.
She said the city chlorinates its sewage, so it is not a huge health hazard.
That chlorine, however, could be toxic to sea life beyond the mixing zone, so a meter is being installed to study the currents for dilution.
The city may end up having to use ultraviolet light, like the City of Brookings, which costs a lot, or it may have to de-chlorinate its treated waste chemically.
Weaver said the best deal the city has found for a new sewer outfall so far would supply half of the needed money through a grant, and half with a loan.