Used dams for sale, best offer

I’ve heard of a non-profit raising money to save something, but have you ever heard of buying something to destroy it? Well, that’s the idea Laura Rose Day [above], executive director of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust put into action. In December 2010, A group of organizations working together as the Penobscot River Restoration Trust officially took possession of the Veazie, Great Works and Howland dams from Pennsylvania Power and Light in a historic deal worth $24 million.

From Kevin Miller at the Bangor Daily News: Under an agreement brokered in 2004, PPL agreed to sell the three dams to the trust for roughly $25 million. PPL, in return, gained authorization to increase power generation at six other dams along the river, entirely offsetting the generation losses incurred when the Veazie, Howland and Great Works dams are decommissioned.

“This landmark partnership has proven that business, government and interested citizens can reach mutually agreeable solutions that benefit the community, the economy and the environment,” Dennis Murphy, a vice president and chief operating officer at PPL, said in a statement Monday.

Once complete, the project will have reopened nearly 1,000 miles of river and streams within the Penobscot watershed to endangered Atlantic salmon, sturgeon, American shad, alewives and seven other species of migratory, sea-run fish. In turn, those species help support other commercially important species, such as cod and lobster.

“This may well turn out to be the most important day for Atlantic salmon in the past 200 years,” Bill Taylor, president of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, said in a statement Monday. “The Penobscot project is our best — and perhaps last — chance of restoring a major run of wild Atlantic salmon in the United States.”

But supporters insist fish and other wildlife won’t be the only beneficiaries. They also predict that fishermen and tourists will be drawn to the freer-flowing river. The Penobscot endeavor has been hailed internationally as a model river restoration project. [Kevin Miller, Bangor Daily News] 

Demolition of the Great Works Dam [pictured above with Laura Rose Day] is slated to begin in the summer of 2012. There’s a damn good chance it’ll be the biggest party Bangor Maine has ever thrown.

On a divisive dam, a snippy bit of graffiti

We here at Felt Soul Media really enjoyed this LA Times article by Steve Chawkins

A huge scissors and a dotted line appear on a dam near Ojai. The message: Tear it down.

If life imitated art, it would be a simple matter to follow the dotted line and snip a 200-foot dam near Ojai off the face of the earth. For years, an alliance of environmentalists, fishermen, surfers and officials from every level of government has called for demolishing the obsolete structure. Now, an anonymous band of artists has weighed in, apparently rappelling down the dam’s face to paint a huge pair of scissors and a long dotted line. The carefully planned work popped up last week and is, no doubt, Ventura County’s most environmentally correct graffiti by a dam site.

“Everyone I’ve talked to has really enjoyed it,” said Jeff Pratt, Ventura County’s public works director. “It sends a good message.” That message? Tear the thing down already.

Matilija Dam was built in 1947 for flood control and water storage. But officials say it was flawed from the outset. For decades, it’s been holding back silt as much as water, depriving beaches 17 miles downstream of the sand they need to replenish themselves.It’s also been deemed a huge obstacle for steelhead trout, an endangered species that was once a trophy fish luring anglers from across the country.

Officials say they don’t know who painted the shears, and they’re careful to note that such acts — even in the name of art — are illegal and dangerous. The dam is challenging enough that rescue squads use it for climbing practice, pounding in metal anchors that may have aided the scissors hands. But even if the painting is no more legal than garden-variety graffiti, some say it speaks to the takedown’s glacial pace.

“We’ve studied this to death and talked about it forever,” said Paul Jenkin of the Matilija Coalition, an alliance of community groups pushing for the dam’s removal. “There’s very strong support from the community, and that’s part of what we’re seeing with the graffiti.”

Coincidentally, environmentalists, county officials, the Army Corps of Engineers and others concerned about Matilija met on Wednesday — the morning a story about the mystery shears appeared on the front page of the Ventura County Star. The group is facing obstacles comparable to those of the steelhead trout: six million cubic yards of silt, an earthquake fault, and costs estimated at more than $140 million. In better times, federal funding seemed close at hand — but now, not so much. The current plan is ambitious enough: Take pressure off the aging structure by chopping 20 feet off the top and allowing more sediment to wash downstream. Meanwhile, the artwork will stay in place. ”It’s certainly raised awareness,” Pratt said. [Steve Chawkins, LA Times, Sept. 19, 2011]

9000 miles

There comes a time when you just have to go home. Since late July, we’ve driven over 9000 miles and put over 20 hours of footage in the can for Amend. People often say “the Pacific Northwest is anywhere a salmon can swim.” Well, the dams in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho have certainly done their part in changing those boundaries in the last century.

The amount of tax payer money being funneled to Salmon recovery efforts is staggering, and mostly spent on hatchery fish. Some dams still crank out an impressive amount of hydro power, but many are in need of prohibitively expensive upgrades to be efficient—or to provide decent fish passage. The majority of dams that are coming out [or slated to] are being removed for purely economic reasons—nevertheless, it still counts as a victory for wild Pacific Salmon, Steelhead, and anyone who has a soft spot for a free flowing river.

Travis and I are headed east next, to interview a politician or two in DC, and then up to Maine to see if there’s still hope for the mighty Atlantic Salmon. We’ve sadly traded the van for some sh*tty airline, but our exploration of this issue is still far from over. We’ll be back in Oregon later this month for the demolition of the “historic” Condit Dam on the White Salmon River.

Huge thanks thus far to Patagonia, everyone who has taken such good care of us on the road, to Sherry for the use of her monster van, to Beda for just being an absolute angel, and to Melissa and Katie for putting up with an absent husband and boyfriend. Oh, and thank you Travis for putting up with me, I don’t know how you do it.

Last, but not remotely least—Thank you to the Telluride Mountainfilm festival for honoring us with their 2011 Mountainfilm Commitment Grant. Amend is one of five winners this year, and three of them happen to be our friends. [Congrats Drew, Suzan and Hal!] Mountainfilm has been a huge part of my life for 14 years, and the sole reason I started tinkering with moving images. It’s a damn good feeling to have them as a partner on Amend. [bk]  


Thanks to a bit of inspiration from author Steven Hawley, Travis and I paid our respects to Idaho’s Sunbeam Dam on the Salmon River. Constructed in 1910 to provide power to a near-by mining operation, little thought was given to the fact that it blocked fish passage—Most importantly to the Idaho sockeye. Today, about two thirds of the original structure remains—but the details of how it was breached in 1934 are surprisingly foggy. Idaho Fish and Game supposedly had a line item on the budget for demolition of the dam in 1930, but Hawley says it went unpaid. What’s left of the Sunbeam tombstone may be our earliest example of river restoration done right: blow the son-of-a-bitch up, and the river will take care of the rest. [bk]

Our boy—Matt Stoecker

Amend co-producer and career restoration ecologist Matt Stoecker emerges from the deep, cold, creepy currents of Elwha Dam’s river right spillway. We lent Matt our underwater housing and he’s been taking care of all our aquatic wildlife needs. The Chinook were a bit timid that day, but he was able to sneak up on a couple pinks doing unmentionable acts of fish love just a dozen yards downstream. Take a gander at this hot profile Chris Malloy and Jason Baffa put together on Matt for Patagonia’s “Preoccupations” series:


Elwha, be free.

In 1909, 100 pound chinook salmon spawned here amidst the lush ferns and old growth log jams of Glines canyon—13 miles from the ocean in Olympic National Park’s Elwha river. Salmon runs 400,000 strong were not uncommon here. In 1910 the first dam was completed downstream, and the Elwha’s fate was sealed along with many other rivers in the Pacific northwest. Electricity was in high demand, and it was delivered at the expense of many thriving river ecosystems. 

99 years later, the sound of an excavator-mounted jack hammer reverberates off the 210 foot Glines Canyon Dam as crews begin the painstaking process of chipping away at its towering, aging facade. The high pitched metallic sound of the steel hammer against the concrete replaced what would typically be a low rumble from antique turbines in the powerhouse just across the river. 20 years in the making—this historic moment marks the beginning of the largest dam removal project in history.

As the machine nibbled away the first bites of Glines Canyon Dam—a complicated, invitation-only, overly secured celebration began downstream. Various politicians including Washington’s Governor and the Secretary of the Interior gathered to kiss each other’s asses and congratulate the Lower Klallum Tribe for winning a battle to help regain their identity.

The most poignant and stirring moment of the gathering wasn’t delivered by a thoughtful speech or a native american song. As the crowd found their seats, a stunning sight was quietly revealed below the Elwha dam in the spillway. 73 Chinook salmon were circling a rocky, emerald green pool—making regular curious and confused passes by the face of the dam. It’s been 99 years since these fish lost 70 miles of habitat, yet they are still trying to go home. I don’t think anyone could gaze down into that pool Saturday and not be moved by what they saw. That image was infinitely more profound than any word spoken that day.  [bk]




The dam tour continues as Travis and I plow through the Pacific Northwest leaving no one safe from an interview and certainly no concrete wall un-filmed. The Copco 1, [pictured above] is one of four dams that choke California’s Klamath river. In 2010, tree huggers, Native Americans, lip rippers and farmers managed to reach a historic compromise to share water between fish habitat and farms across Oregon and California and remove all four dams as early as 2020. It’s not a sealed deal—but the momentum is certainly building. If the Klamath is set free, it would just so happen to be largest river restoration effort in American history—kind of a big deal.

Huge thanks to the ranch owners who let us use their land to access Copco. [bk]

Meet Dennis…

Slowly but surely, the faces and stories of this dam removal movement are starting to reveal themselves. Dennis Brower has tended to the Condit Dam on Washington’s White Salmon River for thirty years. His house, a stone’s throw away from the powerhouse is where he raised his children. When asked what this day will mean to him, [the day he powers down the generators, forever] he paused for a while and looked up into the old trees that surround the company house he pays $20 a month for. “It’s really sad” said Brower.

The destruction of PacifiCorp’s aging and somewhat inefficient Condit Dam will hopefully revitalize miles of cold water spawning habitat for salmon and steelhead, and open up a stunning stretch of water for river nerds to float. The original design actually had fish ladders which were twice destroyed by floods shortly after the dam’s completion. The cost to build a new fish passage was considerably more than the cost of removing the dam.

The 98 year old Condit is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as an engineering and architecture landmark—it will be decommissioned and systematically taken down this fall.

Interesting sh*t: The Condit powerhouse supposedly [on average] generates a comparable amount of power to 5-10 big-ass windmills. [bk]


a month and a day

Ben shoots the Lower Elwha River from the Power House | tr photo

Ben and I must be getting old.  There was a fair amount of complaining about knots in our backs and soreness this last month.   Maybe we are just getting softer.  Living out of a van with Ben has had its highpoints as well as its challenges.

We drove over 4,000 miles and traveled from Colorado to Northern BC, down the Pacific coast from Washington’s Olympic Peninsula to the Lost Coast of California and finally back to Colorado.  We checked out a lot of dams and spent time with some amazing characters.  There was a lot of silence in the van as we took in the enormity of the story we are attempting to tell and as we wrapped our heads around the subjects from which the story will come.

A month and a day and we are back where we started.  Amend is beginning to take shape.  We are regrouping and gaining perspective on the story—heading out again in early September for another month long go of it.

Stories to come from the last month on the road.  Thank you for staying tuned.


Not really—we just forgot to update the blog for two years because we’ve been a tad self conscious about making marketing documentaries. There’s really NOTHING wrong with marketing documentaries, we just prefer long term projects.

Just a quick catch up on what happened in the last two years: Eastern Rises, despite my forecast of total suckage, didn’t suck I guess. It’s been one of the best reviewed fly fishing films that we’re aware of—and it did surprisingly well on the film festival scene. I think winning “Best Mountain Sport Film” at the Banff Film Festival was kind of a big deal, considering that category had traditionally been dominated by healthy budgeted skiing, climbing and biking films. It was pretty dang exciting to break down that barrier for the sport of fly fishing.

Travis married this lovely chick Melissa, and I was his best man. I’m still surprised he picked me, but I was honored. We went back to Baja to chase roosters for Travis’s bachelor party. Frank proved that he is the best rental car rally racer of all time, and I caught my first rooster on the last day after Travis accused me of “not trying hard enough.” Instead of using my anger to beat him with an empty tequila bottle—I channeled it into my fly rod. I had actually given up that day, and was taking my clothes off to go swimming… and of course here comes my fish. I was half naked in the photos, but at least I got it done, and Frank [Smethurst] looked like a proud father when he helped me land it.

Despite our total lack of social media skills, we’ve still been fairly busy. Well, to be honest… Travis has been busy. I personally like to work in “spurts.” If that big-ass geyser in Yellowstone only went off once a day, and occasionally only once a month—that would be equivalent to my productivity in the last two years. We’ve worked on short films for The Rainforest Alliance, The Telluride Tourism Board, Nextel, Hawaii Airlines, Scott Fly Rod Company. I’ve also been filming for Suzan Beraza’s new flick “Uranium Drive In.” Suzan and her crew is best known for their film “Bag It” which has been creating massive change in people’s thinking about plastic bag use all over the world.

Currently we’re in northern British Columbia working on our new film, “Amend.” Travis hasn’t embraced the working title yet… but I figured I’d just put it out there to see what people thought.

Amend: [1] to change for the better; improve: to amend one’s ways [2] to remove or correct faults; rectify

The film is about what appears to be nation-wide movement behind the removal of dams and the push to restore spawning grounds for native sea run fish. Yup, fish again. More fish. That’s what we do. Some guy named Yvon who makes fancy clothes and his son-in-law Matt have asked us to make the film, and we’re going to do our best to tell another story that needs to be told. [bk]