Last-minute bill saves Leaburg Hatchery, funds Eugene YMCA construction

Jul 1, 2019

Supporters of the Leaburg Fish Hatchery are celebrating after lawmakers gave the facility a last-minute reprieve this weekend.

The nearly 70-year-old hatchery along the McKenzie River east of Springfield was set to close July 1st. Earlier this year, budget writers decided not to include funding for Leaburg in the upcoming two-year spending plan. But on the last day of the legislative session Sunday, lawmakers approved $1.3 million to keep the hatchery open.

Sean Davis lives in McKenzie Bridge and had been helping to lead a grassroots effort to save Leaburg. “Last night we were really happy,” he said. “We had a big celebration.”

Fish at the Leaburg Hatchery
Credit Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Davis and other people in the eastern Lane County community worked feverishly to save the facility. For years, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife operated the facility under a federal contract. The federal government pulled out of that contract last year, which means it required state funding to stay open.

Several state lawmakers who represent the area pushed budget-writers to include the hatchery, but were repeatedly told the funding was not available. Some introduced a bill to transfer the facility to the Oregon State Parks Department, which would have made it eligible for lottery revenue.

Near the end of the legislative session, supporters got a glimmer of hope: The legislature’s Ways and Means Committee included money for Leaburg in an end-of-session measure known around the Capitol as the “Christmas Tree bill,” since it includes “presents” for lawmakers in nearly every district.

But prospects for that bill, and more than 100 others, were cast in doubt when Senate Republicans left the state in a dispute over an unrelated bill to regulate carbon emissions. The GOP lawmakers left in order to deny Democrats the quorum needed to conduct business.

That turn of events left Leaburg supporters unsure of whether the money would come through.

“I’ve had people say it’s not going to pass. There’s no way,” he said. “But the community really came together with a loud voice and they were heard.”  

The “Christmas Tree Bill,” which is House Bill 5050, was the second-to-last bill approved by lawmakers before the final gavel fell Sunday afternoon.

The funding is a one-time appropriation, meaning the reprieve is temporary. Davis said he’s working on a long-term funding source for the hatchery, which supporters call an economic lifeline for eastern Lane County.

Another Lane County project that got a last-minute boost through that bill is the Eugene YMCA. The measure includes $15 million to help the Y build a new facility.

Eugene Family YMCA CEO Brian Steffen told KLCC last week that if the bill failed, the effort to replace the Y’s crowded 64-year-old facility could be delayed by several years.

The overall cost of the YMCA replacement project is around $34 million, so the $15 million from the state represents a significant portion.