POST FALLS - Avista's dam restoration project in 2014 will open the gates to impacts at the adjacent Q'emiln Park, boat launch, trailhead shelter building and trails along the Spokane River.
The utility company will rebuild its 106-year-old South Channel Dam, the closest dam to the park and among three that comprise its hydroelectric project at Post Falls.
Construction is expected from the spring to December, affecting access, boat launch and trails at the popular park.
The west entrance road and adjacent part of the park will have material, equipment and vehicles in that area.
"It will be an active construction site," Avista spokeswoman Debbie Simock said on Wednesday during a tour of the area.
Avista officials say it's too soon to know the specifics on the impacts and estimated cost because the project is still in the design phase.
Mary Jensen, Avista project manager, said she expects closures to be "minimal."
More information will be available after a contractor for the project is selected in January, Simock said.
A public meeting will be held in the spring at the trailhead pavilion, on a date to be determined, to discuss more details about the project.
The project has been a part of Avista's capital improvement plan to maintain facilities. Simock said it's unclear at this time how much, if at all, rates will increase as a result of the project.
A traffic control plan will be developed for the project.
Simock said Avista intends to minimize the impact to park and boat launch operations as much as possible while still protecting the safety of the public, environment, workers and wildlife.
"Being a good neighbor is important to us," a letter to Spokane River property owners states.
But making guarantees to lessen the impacts on events and activities at the park also can't happen because the contractor will be on a timeline to finish the project, Simock said.
"The work will be done as quickly and safely as possible to get in and out," Simock said.
She said raising the water to summer levels - part of a dam relicensing agreement - won't be affected by the project.
Simock said the project is intended to preserve the life of the South Channel Dam and improve operation efficiencies to manage costs.
The original concrete, gate frames and hoists will be removed and replaced with new materials. New electric controls will be added to automate the opening and closing of gates.
It currently takes three workers up to three hours to close the six gates at the dam. With automation, the gates can be closed in minutes.
Bullet-shaped piers - as opposed to the current flat ones - will be added to the front of the dam to allow for better deflection of debris and lessen clogging at the dam.
An overlook area with interpretive signage will be part of the project.
A temporary dam will be constructed about 100 feet upstream from the structure to allow for construction. Fish caught in the middle will be relocated on the river.
Jensen said aside from some minor improvements in 1922 and timber gates being replaced with metal ones in the 1980s, little work has been done on the South Channel.
The Middle Channel Dam produces enough power to supply 11,250 homes. The North and South Channel dams help control water levels of Lake Coeur d'Alene and the Spokane, Coeur d'Alene, St. Joe and St. Maries rivers during the summer recreation season.
The Middle Channel Dam was upgraded in 2012.
After the South Channel project, no improvements at Post Falls are planned in the foreseeable future, Avista officials said.
For more information and projects, visit www.avistautilities.com/postfalls. You can sign up to receive an e-newsletter with project updates.