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Gallegly, Flynn in Rift Over Dam Project

Environment: Funds are sought for dismantling the Ventura River structure. But the congressman says the supervisor could alienate agencies.


A rift has developed between two Ventura County officials heading an effort to tear down the silt-filled Matilija Dam, with Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) accusing county Supervisor John Flynn of political posturing that could cripple the drive.

In Washington for a lobbying trip, Flynn announced Friday that he and Gallegly were close to securing $3.7 million to study demolition of the 53-year-old dam on the upper Ventura River.

But an angry Gallegly said no such deal is in the offing, and that Flynn's pressuring of federal officials could backfire.

"John is a hard-working, tenacious guy who has strong feelings on this," Gallegly said. "But we've got to be careful through the process so as not to alienate different agencies."

Together, Flynn and Gallegly secured $100,000 last year from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study demolition of the old dam. The report is due in June.

But Flynn now says that he would prefer to work with the federal Bureau of Reclamation because it is already involved in such demolition projects. And Gallegly insists that is unnecessary.

"We've had great success thus far," Gallegly said. "That $100,000 didn't fall out of the sky."

The dam was built to store drinking and agricultural water for the Ojai Valley and to reduce flood hazards on the Ventura River.

Today, the crumbling 190-foot-high structure provides little water because it is filled with sediment. Environmentalists say it has blocked the endangered southern steelhead trout from its spawning grounds and is robbing Ventura's beaches of sand.

As the Army Corps of Engineers has studied the demolition, the Bureau of Reclamation, an agency of the Department of the Interior, completed its own appraisal of the project, which estimates a cost of $21 million to $179 million to dismantle the dam.

The bureau is halted from conducting a more detailed analysis until Congress gives the go-ahead, spokesman Jeff McCracken said.

Consequently, Gallegly said, it's too soon to push the Interior Department agencies for additional funds. And he said Flynn could jeopardize future bureau interest by pressing too hard too quickly.

But Flynn is convinced the time is ripe to ask for more money. He flew to Washington on Monday, ahead of the four other county supervisors on a federal lobbying trip, to attend numerous meetings with agencies connected to the dam project. Those included the Interior Department and the Office of Management and Budget. Interior officials who oversee Bureau of Reclamation projects showed interest in moving forward, he said.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has already said he would make removal of the dam a top priority. Flynn called him a "cheerleader" for the project.

"The only thing that concerns me is that the bureau should have been making efforts to get into the president's budget," Flynn said. "If I were doing things, I wouldn't have waited. They didn't see it that way. I can't make them do things that I would do."

Gallegly and McCracken, the bureau spokesman, agreed that the Army Corps of Engineers is a better candidate to conduct a full feasibility study, because the agency already has congressional authorization to do one.

Reclamation, on the other hand, is stymied until the issue is brought to the floor.

"There's nothing we can do," McCracken said. "We need to have some authorizing entity to provide us with funding."

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