PORT ANGELES, Wash. (AP) – A long-delayed project to remove two dams on the Olympic Peninsula’s Elwha River received official approval Friday, clearing the way toward restoring one of the state’s most productive salmon rivers.

The city of Port Angeles, the National Park Service and members of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe signed the agreement Friday to begin work on the $182 million plan to restore the Elwha.

Approximately 145 dams have been removed in the United States since 1999, but all were smaller than the 108-foot-tall Elwha Dam and the 210-foot-tall Glines Canyon Dam.

“This is going to be a major historic project, removing these two dams and restoring salmon habitat,” said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., who attended the signing.

The project is set to start in 2008.

It was approved by Congress in 1992, but has been stalled as negotiations dragged on over its impact on local communities.

The Port Angeles City Council approved its participation in the plan earlier this week. However, Mayor Richard Headrick, voting against it, expressed concerns over potential effects on the city’s water rights and supply.

Workers will dismantle the dams in stages, reopening 70 miles of salmon and steelhead spawning habitat.

It will take up to three years to remove the dams, which were built for hydroelectricity more than 70 years ago without fish ladders – a violation of state law. They have choked off the salmon runs for most of the past century.

Removing the dams will release sediment – 18 million cubic yards of dirt and gravel – that will initially degrade the river’s water quality.

Scientists will study how that much sediment will affect the river bed, the delta and fish spawning habitat.

The federal government will put $70 million toward construction of a water-treatment plant in Port Angeles, while the Lower Elwha Klallam Reservation will receive a sewer system, raised flood-protection levee and fish hatchery.

AP-ES-08-07-04 0019EDT

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