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rock-creek-reservoir-15 (copy)

Here is a look at the Rock Creek Reservoir, which supplies a significant share of Corvallis' drinking water, from 2013. The city is appealing an environmental fine from the state for allowing concrete to get into the reservoir during an intake structure replacement project last summer.

The city of Corvallis is appealing a fine from state environmental regulators, saying the penalty far exceeds the severity of the incident.

On May 7, the Department of Environmental Quality issued a $6,600 fine against the city for allowing “cementitious grout” to enter the Rock Creek Reservoir last August during a project to replace a wooden intake structure with a seismically resilient concrete structure.

In its penalty notice, DEQ said the fine was levied because “concrete is highly caustic and may alter the chemical makeup of waters of the state,” posing a potential hazard to cutthroat trout and other aquatic life in Rock Creek.

According to the city, the incident occurred when workers for contractor R&W Excavating of Scio were installing seismic anchors for the new intake structure and a small amount of construction material got into a small pool of water on the bottom of the drained reservoir and went into a drainpipe.

The spill was quickly contained and reported to DEQ by the city as required, and all permits were followed to the letter, city officials insist.

Although DEQ characterized the incident as a Class 1 or serious violation, Corvallis officials view the release as a low-level incident that may never have put any wildlife at risk, according to city spokesman Patrick Rollens.

“Based on all the observations we made in the field, it seemed like it was a very minor amount of material that never entered the water system,” Rollens said on Wednesday.

“If they’re operating on an inaccurate estimate of the amount of material involved, we’d like an opportunity to correct that.”

The city has filed a request for an appeals hearing, and DEQ spokeswoman Katherine Benenati said a meeting was scheduled in the near future.

“The meeting will be an opportunity, as part of the appeal process, for the city to provide any additional facts and information we may not have,” Benenati said.

“We will consider any information presented as we move forward in the process.”

The city-owned Rock Creek watershed, located about 15 miles southwest of Corvallis, provides about 1 billion gallons of drinking water annually. 

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Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.

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Special Projects Editor

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald