In the summer of 2015, a severe drought dropped the water
level at Detroit Lake to a historic low. There was so little water that a
100-year-old wagon appeared in the lake bed. Two marinas in Detroit, Kane’s
Marina and Detroit Lake Marina, were unable to open for the summer season.
When the water in Detroit Lake is low and boats come out of
the water – particularly in the summer – the tourism dries up, too, and
“There’s a huge economic value to having those marinas be
able to be operational,” Marion County Commissioner Kevin Cameron said.
A long-planned project that would excavate the dirt under
the city’s two marinas got a kickstart of $2 million appropriated to it through
the year-end $1.7 trillion federal spending package that was signed into law
this week by President Joe Biden.
For a community still recovering and rebuilding after the
wildfires of 2020, the excavation project has the potential to allow the
marinas to stay open from April until October in some years.
With that, existing businesses – or new ones – could become
a lot more financially viable.
“People are going, that’s just recreation, but that’s the
economy up here and we need every dime of it,” Detroit Mayor Jim Trett said.
City’s dependency on recreation
Detroit, population 174 – down from 205 in 2020 before the
wildfires – is located 50 miles east of Salem in the Santiam Canyon. The city
moved about a half mile to the northwest prior to the 1953 completion of
Detroit Dam. The dam on the North Santiam River created Detroit Lake.
After the timber industry declined in the 1990s, much of the
city’s economy has been dependent on tourism centered around the lake,
Detroit’s two marinas are where boats are launched and
stored for the majority of the summer season.
According to Marion County, the project would allow the
marinas to operate with water as low as 1,525 feet above sea level. Full pool
at Detroit is 1,569 feet.
Water is drained out of the lake and down the North Santiam River
every fall as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases additional water to aid
fish that are migrating up the North Santiam.
In the winter, the water level at Detroit drops as low as
1,450 feet. The docks at the marinas spend much of the winter sitting on the
In the past five-plus years, city and county officials have
gotten approval from the agencies they need to move the project forward.
Trett tells of going to a meeting in 2017 between mayors and
U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, an Oregon Democrat, where he brought up the project.
Trett said within a week, the necessary government agencies gave their
“That’s when I decided I like Kurt Schrader,” Trett said.
Schrader, along with U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and U.S. Sen. Jeff
Merkley, also Oregon Democrats, got the $2 million for the marina project
funded through the omnibus bill.
Cameron said the initial estimates were the project would
cost $2 million, but it could well rise to $3 million.
“We’ll find it,” he said. “It’s worth it.”
What to do with all that dirt
The goal of the project is to remove 162,000 cubic yards of
dirt and sediment from under the docks. It’s not a small amount of dirt.
“They say there’s going to be over 3,000 dump trucks coming
out of that,” Trett said. “And it’s not going to be the little ones, it’s the
A major hurdle with the project is where to place the dirt
once it’s dug out.
The answer may have come long ago. About 10 years ago, a
group of University of Oregon students came up with a proposal that would build
a peninsula south of Kane’s Marina that would extend towards Piety Knob, the
island in Detroit Lake.
“We took another stab, we hired consultants with our
economic development dollars,” Cameron said. “The design is actually there. The
question is can we move that dirt there, over and develop that vision by
building that peninsula?”
Due to the constraints of removing the dirt only when the
water is low, it can only be done in winter.
The earliest the work could be done is in the winter of
“And it may even be the year after that,” Trett said.
Other local projects receiving funds
Merkley, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee,
said 145 local projects in Oregon will receive money through the omnibus bill.
“It’s a lot of pieces of the puzzles that have been
identified at the local communities as the most significant things that they
want help with,” Merkley said. “They identify it, I fight for it.”
Other projects in the Mid-Valley that will receive money
from the package include:
$4 million for safety improvements in the Highway 19 and 99W
corridor, as well as intersection improvements south of McMinnville.
$2.5 million toward a new transit facility in South Salem
for Salem Area Mass Transit, also known as Cherriots.
$1.6 million for a water system project in Falls City.
$1.25 million for the wastewater treatment plant in
$1 million for transitional housing for wildfire survivors
through Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency.
$500,000 for the Barbara Roberts Career Technical School in
$340,000 to expand the commercial truck driving program at
Chemeketa Community College.
$83,000 for an emergency operations center in Dallas.
$850,000 for community land trust development in Salem and
Eugene through DevNW