Fate uncertain as PUD opts to power up dam
By Marcy Stamper
The 94-year-old Enloe Dam powerhouse has been designated as one of Washington’s seven-most-endangered historic properties.
The powerhouse was selected because it is in a critical state of disrepair and will be removed by the Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD) if no one comes forward with a new use for the building, according to Chris Moore, executive director of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.
After reviewing proposals to restart or remove Enloe Dam, the PUD board voted unanimously last week to restart the dam to generate power.
The powerhouse — along with several schools, a house and a barn — was chosen from among 12 nominations this year, said Moore. It was nominated by the Okanogan Borderlands Historical Society.
In a video interview about the powerhouse designation, Kay Sibley, the historical society’s executive director, said the dam and powerhouse were built to meet the needs of the mining industry and growing population in the Okanogan River basin. Oroville harnessed its new power to erect the first neon sign in Okanogan County, said Sibley.
Sibley said the powerhouse was constructed from “the best brick” in the county, if not in the entire state.
While the powerhouse has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978, the current designation underscores how tenuous its survival is. The most-endangered list highlights historic places “threatened by demolition, neglect, lack of funds, inappropriate development or insensitive public policy,” according to the preservation trust.
The PUD’s federal license to restart Enloe Dam includes building a new powerhouse and demolishing the old one.
The PUD sent out a call in February for anyone interested in adapting the powerhouse, which is on the east bank of the Similkameen River near Oroville, for public use. The PUD pointed to its favorable location — near a scenic trail, the river and wineries. The powerhouse offers expansive views of the river.
The PUD wants to wait as long as possible to see if there is interest in renovating the powerhouse, since it has historic value and is not in the way of electrifying the dam, according to PUD Commissioner Steve Houston.
The trust says these historic properties contribute to the quality of life and daily experiences of living in small towns, large cities and rural areas across the state. “It is an understatement to say that our historic resources help to paint a distinct Washington portrait, and it is certainly no overstatement to conclude that their loss would leave large gaps in that canvas,” the trust said.
The group assists in developing support to remove the threat of demolition and in finding ways to preserve the historic properties.
The PUD acquired Enloe Dam in 1945 but has not produced power there since 1959, when less-expensive power from the Bonneville Power Administration reached the area.
The PUD estimates that if Enloe is restarted, the electricity generated there could power 2,000 homes — all of Oroville. But opponents of Enloe have argued that the costs of construction and the low water flows over Similkameen Falls for much of the year make the dam economically unfeasible.
“Although a listing won’t necessarily save a property or provide funding, it creates awareness and galvanizes communities to preserve their endangered sites,” the trust said. It has identified 150 threatened sites since 1992.