A Dam Big Problem

Hills Creek dam inundation map, published in Register Guard, annotated by SustainEugene.org

Several years ago, I went to the monthly "Mayor meets with citizens" meeting held in the Albertson's store at 18th and Chambers. I asked Mayor Piercy about the inundation potentials if the dams upstream of Eugene broke and whether the location we were at was out of harm's way, or would we still have to go to higher ground. She did not respond, not even to say she did not know or it was none of my business.

On March 18, I went to the Army Corps of Engineers dam inundation meeting in West Fir. Their maps show that 18th and Chambers would be inundated but it would be near the edge of the flood. I didn't write down the precise edge but it wasn't far up Chambers Street beyond 18th. Nearly all of Eugene north of 18th Street would be flooded in a dam collapse, but the Feds refuse to post this publicly, with the excuse that bad people might want to use it to hurt us. However, even if bad guys did crack the dams, those downstream would have a “need to know” how far uphill to run.

Perhaps the real reason the dam inundation maps are not public is the embarrassment to the real estate industry. The value of the new yuppie complexes being built (and publicly subsidized) would be much less if it was widely understood how deeply they would be submerged in a dam failure scenario, whether from an earthquake, flood or act of violence.

As a mere citizen, you do not have the right to have a copy of the Army Corps reports, although if pre-screened (for an event like this meeting) you can see the maps but not take a picture or a copy home with you to share with your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.

However, the Corps is willing to provide individuals excerpts that show how far underwater your location would be and I recommend everyone, especially those on the valley floor, to request a copy.

If you believe in writing politicians urge them all (from local government to the feds) to make this material public, since if there's ever an emergency we would all need to know what to do, how far to run, etc.

Direct your respectful requests for your individual location information to:

Scott Clemans
Public Affairs Specialist
Portland District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Office: (503) 808-4513
Cell: (503) 568-9041
"Clemans, Scott F NWP" <Scott.F.Clemans@usace.army.mil>
Facebook/Flickr/Pinterest/Twitter/YouTube: PortlandCorps




Grading on a Curve

Enviro ‘champs’ ignoring the biggest issues


On Nov. 27, EW’s Slant profiled the “Environmental Scorecard” of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. EW drew attention to “the relatively high scores racked up by state reps and senators in our part of the valley.” Unfortunately, OLCV was grading on a curve to make Democrats in Salem look better than they are.

One of the most important votes of the 2013 session, not included in OLCV’s scorecard, was to appropriate $450 million toward the Columbia River Crossing (CRC), a $3 billion to $4 billion dollar boondoggle that would widen I-5 to 16 lanes north of the bridge. The Oregon House voted 45-11 in favor and the Senate voted 18-11 in favor. Only two Democrats in the House and one in the Senate voted “no.”

EW highlighted Rep. John Lively’s 94 percent OLCV rating, but did not mention his vote for the CRC nor his previous promotion of bigger roads while working for ODOT.

OLCV’s website cites 10 state reps as environmental champions, but only one of those 10 voted against the CRC. Designating highway expansion supporters as “environmental leaders” suggests political partisanship has become more important than environmental protection.

The only legislator representing Lane County who was against CRC was Rep. Bruce Hanna of Roseburg, a Republican. Some Republicans expressed dislike of the token transit component. Republicans were freer than Democrats to oppose Gov. Kitzhaber’s campaign for CRC.

CRC is now bogged down in financial chaos since Washington state legislators did not appropriate anything for it. However, the project is legally approved and an Obama administration priority.


In November 2008, Gov. Kulongoski’s Transportation Vision Committee released a report that called for $18 billion in new and expanded state highways, including over $1 billion in Eugene and Springfield. 1000 Friends of Oregon, Oregon Environmental Council and Environment Oregon were part of this committee, but they were window dressing to show that all points of view were supposedly considered. If these groups had a minority report to dissent from the highway promotion, they kept it very quiet.

In 2013, ODOT started building two new highways: the Newberg Dundee Bypass (through farmland) and the Sunrise Freeway in Clackamas County. Both projects only have part of their funding, so ODOT is building segments and hoping for the rest of the money in the future. I attended public hearings for both of these bypasses and did not see any environmental groups at either event.

Also in 2013, ODOT approved a new freeway in Medford, the Route 62 bypass. I didn’t attend the hearing. The only environmental group that sent comments was Rogue Valley Audubon Society, which complained construction would harm birds.

Federal aid highways such as CRC have to plan for traffic two decades in the future, not current congestion. Our transportation plans ignore the fact that traffic levels peaked in Oregon in 2003 and Oregon’s main fuel source, the Alaska Pipeline, peaked in 1988 and has dropped three quarters since then. It’s anyone’s guess how much energy will be available for traffic in the 2030s, but it will be much less than the current flow, especially if the Alaska Pipeline closes due to “low flow.” Current levels are just above the minimum threshold needed for the pipeline to operate in the Arctic winter.


Here in Eugene from 1999 through 2007, I was the “road scholar” for a proposed lawsuit that prevented the West Eugene Porkway, a bypass of West 11th through the West Eugene Wetlands. WETLANDS vs. Federal Highway Administration was not filed because the feds withdrew the project and selected “no build.” Details are at SustainEugene.org.

The lawsuit focused on legal precedents, including Section 4(f), which prohibits federal aid highways through parks. But it also would have tried to have set a new precedent combining the facts of peak oil and peak traffic as reasons the 20-year planning rule no longer justifies highway expansions.

Since then, I have looked for other freeway fights around the country that could use this legal strategy to create a precedent. A state-by-state list of plans for $1 trillion of highway expansions across the country is at PeakTraffic.org.

The most energetic environmental efforts against new roads are often in places where liberal Democrats are surrounded by conservative Republicans (Bloomington, Ind., and Louisville, Ky., are examples). The professional environmentalists in these places know the state government is not their ally (nor their funder).

While trains and transit could play important roles for post-peak transportation, recognizing we’re passing the limits to growth and relocalizing food production are probably the most important responses to peaked traffic and peaked energy.

About the Author
Mark Robinowitz of Eugene is author of “Peak Traffic and Transportation Triage: a Legal Strategy to Cancel Trillion Dollar Highway Plans and Prepare for Post Peak Travel,” at PeakTraffic.org.

• 1 Comment

peakchoicedotorg • 17 minutes ago

Sent to me from "a long time environmental activist and former OLCV board member" - I sent him this op-ed and this was his reply:

I hope they print it.

OLCV continues to disappoint me. I wrote them after the special session in which local control over genetic engineering was thrown under the bus and told them they should target on a Democrat architect of that compromise for defeat in the primary, just to show that environmentalists mean business. I received no reply. That they left off the CRC from their list of counted votes doesn't surprise me in the slightest. They are an arm of the Democratic party and deathly afraid of organized labor.



Eugene's energy plan fails to address coming oil shortage

Appeared in print: Monday, Sep 27, 2010 - Register Guard

On Sept. 15 [2010], the Eugene City Council adopted a Climate and Energy Action Plan intended to reduce greenhouse gas generation and energy consumption.

The plan has many good ideas that would make our community more resilient to energy disruptions, but it assumes we still have a choice between conservation and business as usual. After Peak Oil, our choice is different: We must choose whether we will try to mitigate the economic and social consequences of fossil fuel depletion.

The plan's goals include cutting Eugene's energy usage 50 percent by 2030. However, that goal will be reached whether we plan for it or not, because global oil production has peaked.

A 2009 U.S. Department of Energy report estimates world oil extraction will decline by half over the next two decades. We cannot burn fuel that does not exist.

The report states that energy prices are likely to go up, but fails to consider the full impact of the end of cheap oil. As oil production declines, even those with money may be unable to acquire these fuels with their accustomed ease.

Since 2007, the so-called recession and higher energy prices have reduced North American oil consumption by nearly 10 percent.

We are at global Peak Oil, meaning the world's oil fields are both half empty and half full. They are half empty, so we must recognize limits to endless growth on a finite planet and shift our plans to recognize physical reality. But the wells are also half full, so we have lots of energy remaining that could be used to mitigate the decline.

That choice will not be made as long as vague claims of sustainability substitute for the courage to admit the full scale of the crisis.

Alaska Pipeline peaked in 1988, approaching low flow shutdownNearly every drop of liquid fuel used in Oregon and Washington comes from the Alaska Pipeline via five refineries in Puget Sound. When the Pipeline shuts down due to "low flow" -- it takes a minimum flow to keep the oil from freezing in the Arctic winter -- what part of the world will give up some of their energy usage so Cascadia can power food deliveries?


In response to my complaints that Peak Oil was not mentioned in the city's draft plan, the final version added a mention that Peak doesn't only mean a decline of oil; it admitted that renewable energy cannot replace all of the fossil fuel we use. Fossil fuels are more energy dense than renewables.

In response to the final plan, I created an uncensored citizen's alternative, "Peak Choice for Eugene: Adding Peaked Oil and Other Limits to Growth to the City of Eugene Climate and Energy Action Plan." The full report is available at www.SustainEugene.org.

A focus of the city's plan is the energy consumption of buildings, which rivals transportation as the main energy user (coal and natural gas for electricity and heating, not oil). Some green building practices are cheap and should be required for building permits. Proper solar orientation is a design issue not an additional expense, as solar electric panels are.

The Eugene Water & Electric Board is spending $85 million to relocate its maintenance yard to the west Eugene wetlands. That sum could have put solar hot water systems on more than 10,000 homes and businesses. If EWEB had chosen that path, we could have built a factory to make the panels and created living wage jobs to do the construction, electrical and plumbing work.

The plan refused to mention Eugene's biggest infrastructure plans during the rest of the oil era — the Regional Transportation Plan, which mandates widening Interstate 5, the Randy Papé Beltline, Highway 126 and other major roads.

The governor's Transportation Vision Committee estimated in 2008 these projects would cost about $1 billion. These expansions assume endless increases in traffic, even though Peak Oil caused Peak Traffic.

Oregon Department of Transportation is studying several options to widen Beltline highway.

The "braided ramps" option would be the largest expansion, with 11 lanes at the river crossing.


Now that oil production is declining, we need transportation triage. There will not be enough resources to widen highways and improve bus and train service. We should fix broken bridges, not widen them, and expand bus and train service.

Lane County Oregon Peak VMTLane Transit District managers ignored warnings that Peak Oil was imminent, and they got caught with budget shortfalls when oil prices went up. Then they cut service and raised fares despite increased ridership.

Reversing these cuts is a bigger priority than demolishing local businesses on West 11th Avenue for an overpriced express bus to Wal-Mart.

The most important energy issue is relocalizing food production, not the illusion that electric cars could replace existing vehicle fleets. Most of our food is brought from distant locations on trucks, freight trains, cargo ships and airplanes, which are not powered by solar panels and wind turbines.

There are many efforts in our region to relocalize agriculture that need the support of everyone who eats. If the city of Eugene wants to help local food, it could drop plans to double the cost of community garden plots to $120 from $60.

Lowering greenhouse gas emissions is not the only reason to reduce the distance our food travels. We will need local food to ensure that everyone can eat as the world's cheap oil is replaced by expensive, difficult-to-get oil.

Mark Robinowitz is author of "Peak Choice for Eugene" at www.SustainEugene.org.



"When politics enter into municipal government, nothing resulting therefrom in the way of crimes and infamies is then incredible. It actually enables one to accept and believe the impossible..."
-- Mark Twain, letter to Jules Hart, 1901-12-17

Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Tenth Edition
greenwash (n):
"Disinformation disseminated by an organisation so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. Derivatives greenwashing. Origin from green on the pattern of whitewash."

"Some people see things as they are, and ask, 'Why?'
Others dream things that never were, and ask 'Why not?'"
-- George Bernard Shaw