EAGLE POINT, Ore. — The rebuilt Butte Creek Mill in Eagle Point now has a good chance of retaining its historic status as a water-powered mill, project stakeholders announced on Thursday.
The Butte Creek Mill Foundation sounded the alarm in February, saying that the mill's traditional water rights were being sold by the mill property's original owner to a new buyer. Supporters renewed fundraising efforts in an attempt to buy replacement water rights.
Sale of the rights recently went to Trout Unlimited in Ashland for $591,990, the Foundation said Thursday. The contract allows Trout Unlimited a two-year window to seek out grant funds that would cover the cost.
At the same time, the Foundation has agreed with Trout Unlimited on a leaseback of enough water to power the mill and protect its historic status. As part of the agreement, the Butte Creek Mill Foundation would need to raise $91,000 of the funds needed for the full purchase.
The Foundation said previously that the mill requires roughly 10 cubic feet per second of water to power the millstones, with the original water rights guaranteeing between 22 and 23 cfs. The agreement would secure 16 cfs for the mill in perpetuity, for an annual fee of $1.
“The BCMF is happy that the opportunity to partner with TU on the water rights came along and looks forward to working closely with TU to the mutual beneﬁt of the mill’s operation, the creek’s water quality and the well-being of aquatic life in Little Butte Creek," said Jay O'Neill, speaking on behalf of the Foundation. "This partnership is a deﬁnite win for all parties involved.”
In a statement, Trout Unlimited said that its goals were two-fold — to preserve the Butte Creek Mill's historic water supply, and to keep the remaining water flowing in Little Butte Creek for fish habitat and for the Eagle Point community so that it isn't diverted by junior claims upstream.
"This water right transaction will be the largest of its kind in Oregon to date," said Trout Unlimited's Oregon director Chrysten Lambert. "It will help conserve a beloved historic resource, local community values and economy, and some of Oregon’s most iconic ﬁshes. TU is proud to work with Mr. Bob Russell and the Butte Creek Mill Foundation to conserve both high priority aquatic and riparian habitat and a traditional commercial use of the stream. We salute these partners for their commitment to an outcome that works for everyone.”
Bob Russell, owner of the original Butte Creek Mill property and the accompanying water rights, also lauded the agreement as a positive one.
“Partnering with Trout Unlimited is a win-win for the future of the historic Butte Creek Mill, salmon, the citizens of Eagle Point, and our entire community,” Russell said.
The original Butte Creek Mill was built in 1872 and remained in operation for more than a century, until the building was destroyed in a fire in 2015. The Butte Creek Mill Foundation was established to reconstruct the historic building to its original specifications, and that effort has gotten increasingly close to the finish line over the last several years.