WALLOWA LAKE — There is still hope that funds will come through to fund the refurbishing work planned for the Wallowa Lake Dam, state Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, said Thursday, Sept. 10, as the September lottery revenue forecast is awaited this week.
Hansell said earlier this summer that when the June state lottery revenue forecast came out and it was far below what was needed to fund the bonds for the dam, that the stakeholders and the state would have to wait for the September forecast to see if the forecast would improve.
The lottery revenue must be four times the amount needed to sell bonds under state law. As Hansell explained if, for example, $4 million were received in revenue, bonds totaling $1 million could be sold to pay for projects approved by the Legislature. The June forecast came in at only 3.1 to 1, he said, therefore no bonds could be sold.
“I have heard — and I take everything with a grain of salt — lottery funds have rebounded so there’s going to be a serious look at what the revenue is now so we could sell bonds in spring,” the senator said.
The steep drop in lottery funds was announced July 7 by state officials, according to a report by the Capital Bureau. It means that 37 projects authorized by the Legislature at the end of the 2019 session that included $14 million for the dam, and $2.5 million for the Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness and others across the state cannot count on the promised funds. Work on the dam will cost $16 million, with the other $2 million coming from other sources, the stakeholders said.
Hansell said the Center for Wellness was able to be funded through contingency funds, given the emergency of the COVID-19 pandemic, so that project is no longer among those counting on lottery funds.
“We were able to find revenue sources outside of the lottery to complete the project,” he said.
Hansell noted that the pandemic was believed to be the direct cause of the lottery shortfall in June, as many businesses where lottery tickets are sold were closed because of the pandemic.
“That’s the direct cause,” he said.
But the dam wasn’t deemed an emergency, so it is still counting on the lottery funds.
“We’re not considered to be an emergency to be funded,” said Dan Butterfield, president of the Wallowa Lake Irrigation District. “We’ve just asked our representatives and the (county) commissioners to keep us on the list so we don’t have to start this process over again.”
The WLID, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Nez Perce Tribe and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation are the four primary stakeholders in the dam. Issues they share include agriculture, the economy, fisheries and others.
Over the summer, the four signed a memorandum of agreement stating what their basic interests are in the refurbished dam.
Jeff Yanke, a watershed manager with the ODFW, said Friday, Sept. 11, that a press release detailing what’s in the MOA was to be released today.
The enthusiasm of the stakeholders and the work they’ve put in on it are keeping it a priority.
“I’m hearing there is lot of support for the dam,” Hansell said. “But nothing is guaranteed; nothing is final.”
However, given that the funding of the dam remains on the list of projects, that it has the support of Gov. Kate Brown and the continued efforts of the stakeholders including their having signed the MOA, the project isn’t going to be ignored.
“That’s huge,” Hansell said.
Butterfield agreed, saying “We’re crossing our fingers” to keep the process going.