A Rogue River salmon and water quality advocate is helping fill the comment coffers on a study that concludes removing the river's Gold Ray Dam is cheaper than fixing the 106-year-old structure and restoring its hydropower capabilities.

A Rogue River salmon and water quality advocate is helping fill the comment coffers on a study that concludes removing the river's Gold Ray Dam is cheaper than fixing the 106-year-old structure and restoring its hydropower capabilities.

Since the public comment period began a week ago, 136 pre-printed postcards and nearly identical automated e-mails have been logged in support of dam-removal as outlined in a draft environmental assessment now up for public comment.

By Thursday, just one comment against dam removal had reached the Rogue Valley Council of Governments, which is conducting the public-outreach portion of proposed plans to study the possible impacts and remove the dam this year.

No comments had reached the RVCOG in favor of an alternative proposal — spending $69.7 million to restore the dam, add an updated fish ladder that meets state and federal standards, build a new powerhouse and restore the dam's hydropower capabilities.

Lesley Adams, the Rogue Riverkeeper at the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, said she printed hundreds of the postcards and provided the automated e-mail responses as a way for people to weigh in quickly and easily on the draft study before the 30-day comment period expires March 26.

"We're trying to mobilize folks," Adams said Thursday. "Salmon and the economy are important issues to people. We're trying to give the public every opportunity to comment."

Adams said removing the dam now makes sense both for salmon and for Jackson County, which took ownership of the dam when Pacific Power decommissioned it in 1972. State biologists have identified Gold Ray as one of the top 10 impediments to wild salmon in Oregon.

Should the county not move forward with dam removal this year, it would lose what's left of a $5 million federal stimulus grant given specifically for conducting the environmental assessment and removing the dam.

Adams said not removing the dam could leave the county facing far costlier ways to deal with the financial liability of ownership.

Adams said she solicited signatures on the comment cards, which include many out-of-town and a few out-of-state residents, last weekend while at a University of Oregon's environmental law conference.

"There's a very strong economic argument that we need to strike when the iron's hot," Adams said Thursday. "It's a no-brainer issue for me."

Morris Saltikoff, a Sams Valley man running for a county Board of Commissioners seat, disputes Adams' conclusions as well as the costs for retooling the dam as outlined in the study.

Saltikoff said he favors having the county tap its cash reserves to turn the dam and powerhouse from a liability to a potential money-maker, even though the environmental assessment concludes the dam/powerhouse option would not pay for itself over time.

He said the county should ignore the pro-removal comments received so far.

"I'd expect K-S Wild to grandstand and flood them with comments," Saltikoff said. "Personally, I'd discount all of it."

Over the next three weeks, RVCOG officials plan to make presentations on the study's findings to civic groups, a fishing guides' association and others, said Craig Harper, the RVCOG's water resources program manager.

A public meeting is planned for 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. March 16 at the Jackson County Public Works Auditorium, 7520 Table Rock Road, White City.

It will include a presentation on the history of the dam and various aspects of the assessment, followed by an open house for people to ask questions and give comments, Harper said.

All public comments will be included with the studies and presented to the Board of Commissioners in the first or second week of April for the ultimate decision on the dam's fate.

That would put the time-line to begin removal during the summer window when construction work can be done in streams like the Rogue.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com.