The large concrete southern abutment of the Winchester Dam is the location of the old powerhouse from the 1940s, when the dam was hydroelectric. Most people don’t know that they never excavated all the way down to the bedrock beneath it, so the concrete was poured on top of sediment and mud. Consequently, for decades, the forceful river current has been excavating beneath the concrete, creating huge holes beneath the dam that have been leaking for decades. Fearing for their own safety, scuba divers hired to inspect the damage refused to go anywhere near the leak for fear they’d be sucked into the hole.

The Winchester Dam, which was condemned in 1976, provides no irrigation, flood control, or hydroelectricity. Its sole function is as a private water ski lake used exclusively by a few dozen wealthy Winchester Water Control District members at the exclusion of the public. The 17-foot dam is an impassible barrier to migratory native fish. Seventeen local organizations have offered to remove it at not cost to its owners, the Winchester Water Control District.

On August 17, 2023, Ryan Beckley, president of the Winchester Water Control District (WWCD’s) Beckley proclaimed that WWCD’s original $3 million expenditure for both Phase I and Phase II of the 2023 Winchester Dam repairs would be the “permanent solution — a fix for 100 years to come.”

As per the Winchester Water Control District’s permit, Beckley had three weeks, from August 7 -28, 2023, to complete both Phase I and Phase II of the $3 million repair project.

Phase II of the August 2023 Winchester Dam repair project involved driving drive steel piles across the aforementioned sink hole area around the southern abutment to form cofferdams, so the water could be pumped out of the chamber, the dirt and sediment removed, and fresh concrete poured in on top of metal anchors driven into the bedrock. This required bringing a large impact hammer mounted on a 40-60’ barge to the dam face, to drive the piles. 

But that never happened.

Penny wise and pound foolish, Beckley hired too few workers and skimped on equipment and vehicles costs. This abundance of frugality put the August 2023 Winchester Dam repair project significantly behind schedule. 

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife granted Beckley a three-day extension until August 31, but he missed that deadline, as well. In the end, he couldn’t bring the job in on time or on budget, ultimately perpetrating what ODFW has called the biggest fish kill on an Oregon river in 2023. ODFW calculated 550,000 native fish fatalities and levied an unprecedented $27.6 million dollar fine.

It’s now evident that an exponentially larger crew working around the clock would have been required to complete both Phase I and II of the project in 22 days. Since Beckley has never built a dam before, this may be alarming but it’s not surprising.

In September, Beckley reportedly ran out of money with Phase I of the repair project incomplete. Phase II of the repairs was never even attempted.

During the last week of August 2023, Beckley notified the Oregon Water Resource Department and the members of the WWCD that Phase II of the dam repair was cancelled. 

Now, it looks like the Winchester Water Control District members will have to fork over another $3 million to pay for Phase II of the dam repairs. Meaning the total cost of the 2023 repairs will be at least $6 million – twice Beckley’s contracted price.

Perhaps coincidentally, as soon as the Phase I repairs were finished, Beckley embarked on a European vacation and began a $200,000 remodel of his $2 million home in West Linn, Oregon.

If the Winchester Water Control District members feel like they’re being hustled, who can blame them?