Here’s a conundrum for you to ponder.

Were the Wallowa Lake Dam to burst and wreak havoc on downstream property and/or persons, who would be liable for subsequent damages?

Of course, according to 100 percent of all persons knowledgeable about the current status of that old, deteriorating dam, such is not going to happen.

Years back, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers studied what then was the physical condition of the Wallowa Lake Dam and implemented binding requirements about how much water could be stored behind it.

That figure, of which lower storage amounts certainly are acceptable, says that no more than 72 percent of dam capacity legally can be stored there. Too, at that time the Army Corps classified the Wallowa Lake Dam as “high risk,” meaning the Oregon Natural Resources department is mandated to make annual safety inspections.

This provides an additional safeguard for residents living below the dam because the specialist inspecting the dam either could further lower the percentage of storage capacity allowed by law, or make recommendations to entities with power to implement such a mandate.

Over the course of more than the last eight decades, periodic patches or even upgrades have been applied to the aging unit, but their overall impact has not seemed to have slowed the aging process that relentlessly is stealing the dam’s health.

The cure, of course, is a new dam, but who has the bucks?

Even though anyone in the know knows the dam will not burst, precautions are under way to combat such an unexpected disaster.

As recently as June 15, the American Red Cross and many from public health staged a mock disaster to prepare for a natural disaster here.

And what disaster did the Red Cross & followers mold their presentation around? You’re right, the potential bursting of the Wallowa Lake Dam.

Because we live in an era when natural disasters abound, for the Red Cross to train locals for the potentiality of the bursting of the dam makes total sense. Who’s to say an oddball earthquake couldn’t occur here?

But this exposes an important point.

No individual, corporation, or other entity can be held accountable for damages incurred through natural disasters.

However, were the aging Wallowa Lake Dam to give up the ghost because of neglect or natural causes and consequently flood the valley, who would be held accountable?

Common sense says the solution would be to point the finger at the Associated Ditch Company, long assumed to be the dam’s owner.

But even that isn’t a slam-dunk.

Wallowa County clerk Dana Roberts, armed with specific references to dusty county documents that might provide an answer to the question of who owns the dam, is coming up empty.

Like Chieftain research, Roberts has located owners of property on which the Wallowa Lake Dam sits, but has found no records indicating who owns the dam.

Which places, as I would see it, the ADC in a safe position. Because the dam is classified as agricultural, no taxes would be paid on the dam were an owner found. Plus, even though the ADC is the assumed owner and “might” be legally bound to that title by a grandfather clause, that likely won’t come into play … meaning the ADC conceivably could allow the dam to crumble away with no sense of accountability for their lack of action.

Personally, like the bursting of the dam itself, I don’t think that will happen. But the fact that it could happen, like Red Cross crisis trainings, doesn’t preclude the wisdom of exploring the possibility.

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