Ryan Beckley (left) meets with three Douglas County commissioners, Rep. Virgle Osborne, and Senator David Brock Smith at Winchester Dam on August 17, 2023

Ryan Beckley is the president of the Winchester Water Control District (WWCD), a group of Douglas County’s wealthiest residents who are the owners of the condemned Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua River.

In August 2023, Beckley awarded the $3 million dam repair contract to his own company, TerraFirma Foundation Systems.

During the second week of August 2023, Beckley drained the private water ski lake behind the 133-year-old Winchester Dam to begin dam repairs but ignored most of the regulations specified in his permit. Within a week he singlehandedly caused the biggest fish kill of the year on an Oregon river and the needless death of hundreds of thousands of migratory native fish.

Beckley’s hubris knows no bounds. On August 17, 2023, he told Hannah Seibold of the Roseburg News-Review:

“There’s never been a salvage effort anywhere comparable to that whatsoever. I’m not trying to paint a picture that we were callous about it or we disregarded it, but we’re spending almost a quarter of a million dollars on fish salvage.”

This statement is patently false.

According to Shaun Clements, Acting Deputy Director of Fish and Wildlife at ODFW, Beckley is, in fact, the Oregon Fish Kill Champion of 2023. Beckley’s callous disregard for the rule of law, fisheries best management practices, and public safety are now well-documented.

In August of 2023, Beckley posted to his Instagram page, “Gee, I can name at least two dozen dam construction and renovations that I’ve prime contracted over the past 24.” But according to Jim McCarthy of WaterWatch of Oregon, Beckley has “never repaired a dam before in his life.”

On August 17, 2023, Beckley told the News-Review that dam repair project was a “permanent solution — a fix for 100 years to come.”

This was also a false statement.

According to the Oregon Water Resource Department, the agency that condemned the Winchester Dam in 1976, the dam is rated a “high hazard,” meaning “the department expects loss of human life to occur if the dam fails.”

The elected county officials who represent the citizens of Douglas County (the poorest county on Oregon’s Highway 5) Douglas County Commissioners Tim Freeman, Chris Boice, and Tom Kress are bought and paid for by the timber industry. In exchange for big timer’s campaign contributions, the commissioners endeavor to keep wages in Douglas County the lowest in the state yet consistently vote to pay themselves considerably more than commissioners receive in other Oregon counties. And they habitually (and unfairly) side with the few dozen rich WWCD property owners and support their claim to the most dangerous and illegal private water ski lake in the state at the exclusion of the public.

Many Douglas County voters consider it unfair that their elected representatives consistently support the rich dam owners, many of whom live outside the county (and the state). These voters perceive the dam as a derelict relic from a bygone era when the needs of the few outweighed the needs of the many. Many voters feel the Douglas County commissioners are out-of-step with the values of 21st-century Oregonians.

Four dams were recently removed from the Rogue River in nearby Curry County and their salmon season is now 12 months long, and fishing tourism revenues enrich the county. So Douglas County residents wonder why the North Umpqua River – the number one steelhead stream in North America (and some say, in the world) – is closed to fishing each year due to several years of the lowest fish counts of all time.

The culprit is the Winchester Dam – the most dangerous and illegal dam in Oregon.

On August 17, 2023, the three Douglas County commissioners and Republican State Senator David Brock Smith, and Republican State House Representative Virgle Osborne, met with Ryan Beckley at the Winchester Dam construction site. Photographs taken that day show the water drained, exposing the crumbling and leaking dam face which is patched with hundreds of pressure-treated 2 x 12” boards that leach copper, arsenic, and chromium, and creosote-treated lumber, a “probable human carcinogen” prohibited “for use in contact with food, feed, or drinking water,” just 50-feet upstream from the drinking water intake for one out of three of the county’s 112,000 residents.

There can be no doubt that the five elected officials could see with their own eyes the pressure-treated and creosote-treated lumber in the dam face, as well as the rubber tire mats Beckley used to construct a roadbed across the dewatered riverbed. These tire leach a chemical called 6PPD Quinone, which is the second most lethal substance to salmon on earth.

Douglas County commissioner Chris Boice surveys repairs at the Winchester Dam on August 17, 2023

Photographs of Republican Senator David Brock Smith and Republican house representative Virgle Osborne, as well as Douglas County Commissioners, Tim Freeman, Chris Boice, and Tom Kress, standing in solidarity with Beckley at the Winchester Dam on August 17, 2023, were posted to Facebook, as these elected officials publicly demonstrated their support for the man who, a month later, was recognized by ODFW as the perpetrator the biggest fish kill on an Oregon river this year.

State representative Virgile Osborne went so far as to issue an August 30, 2023, statement declaring:

“My office has received numerous letters regarding Winchester Dam… After many phone calls and letters, I began my own investigation of the work being done on the dam and the folks conducting the work… There were numerous other actions being taken on the site that were in full compliance with DEQ [Oregon Department of Environmental Quality], ODFW and many other agencies that are monitoring the site… My observations are backed up by facts [sic] is that the Winchester Water Control District and associated contractors are in compliance with requirements to do the repairs on the dam… I would like to thank Ryan Beckley for letting us do a site inspection and exceeding all required expectations to protect the fish and the environment.”

It now appears that Representative Osborne was disingenuous in his August 30, 2023, statement. He was utterly wrong about the events that took place at the Winchester Dam this summer that he claimed were “backed up by facts.”

One wonders if Osborne will issue an apology for lying to his constituents, who will likely remember his lack of integrity when they vote in the coming election. 

At the September 27, 2023, meeting of the Oregon Senate Interim Committee on Natural Resources and Wildfire, in Salem, Oregon Republican Senator David Brock Smith told committee members:

“I feel … um … as though I need to protect my individuals, a little bit, in the Winchester Water District … um.  We have situations all the time where there are water quality issues…”

Apparently, Senator Brock Smith, who once again arrived 30 minutes late for a meeting, was also apparently unaware of the magnitude of the unprecedented August 2023 fish kill at Winchester Dam which, most certainly does not “happen all the time” – it is, in fact, one of the most egregious and colossal fish kills in state history.

Despite the many falsehoods spouted by Beckley and inexplicably repeated by Representative Osborne, and Senator Brock Smith, on October 6, 2023, ODFW levied an unprecedented $27.6 million fine against the WWCD, Beckley’s TerraFirma Foundation Systems, and DOWL, the engineers who designed the dam repair plan. The mater is now in the hands of the Oregon Department of Justice.

Osborne and Brock Smith’s assertions turned out to be the exact opposite of what the Oregon DEQ reported on October 26, 2023, when they fined the WWCD, owners of the Winchester Dam, $106,778, for permit violations committed by Ryan Beckley, the president of WWCD, and his company TerraFirma, including:

• Performing work outside the scope of the project description described in the permit application materials.

• Construction of access roads and a work platform downstream of the dam using tire mats.

• Failing to implement erosion control measures to prevent the movement of soil into water of the state.

• Failing to provide unobstructed fish passage.

• Placing biologically harmful materials — uncured concrete — in the North Umpqua River.

• Placing biologically harmful materials — tire mats — in the North Umpqua River.

• Operating equipment in the flowing channel of the river.

• Failing to install a liner upstream of the spill gates to minimize turbidity.

• Failing to report the concrete discharges to Oregon Emergency Response Service.

• Failing to isolate the in-water areas of work from the active flowing stream.

• Failing to remove all construction materials and temporary fill from below Ordinary High Water before the expiration of the in-water work window approved by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

According to ODFW, some 550,000 juvenile lamprey were killed as a result of Beckley’s flagrant permit violations. But ODFW limited their damage survey to the southern bank of the North Umpqua River. If one takes into account the fish mortality on north bank and the surrounding area, it’s likely that millions of native migratory fish were actually killed during the so-called repairs of the Winchester dam in August 2023 – so called because the dam now leaks exponentially worse than it did prior to the August 2023 repairs.

Curiously, since the news of the $27.6 million judgment hit the newspapers, Ryan Beckley hasn’t said a word about the Winchester Dam or the biggest fish kill of the year. 

It is as if his lawyer told him to stop making false statements.

And Senator Brock Smith and Representative Osborne now have to eat their words, having foolishly repeated Ryan Beckley’s lies about fish salvage and permit compliance. 

As long as the crumbling, condemned dam stands, it will continue to kill fish, contaminate drinking water, and threaten the lives of the downstream residents.

The only way to prevent future catastrophe’s is to remove the dam, as the Oregon Water Resource Department Dam Safety Inspector concluded when he condemned the Winchester Dam 47 years ago.

Bring down the dam. Bring back the fish and the jobs.

Oregon State Representative Virgle Osborne.