Family near former Condit Dam fights with PacifiCorp to keep home

Family near former Condit Dam fights with PacifiCorp to keep home »Play Video
PacifiCorp says the Cyphers' home is in danger of sliding into the White Salmon River after the Condit Dam was breached last October. The family is fighting to save their home from being condemned by the company.

NEAR WHITE SALMON, Wash. - It was one of the most amazing displays of the power of water.

When workers punched a tunnel through the bottom of the century-old Condit Dam near White Salmon, Wash. last October water exploded downstream in a White Salmon River canyon at more than 11,000 cubic feet per second.

Behind the dam the now former Northwestern Lake emptied like a bath tub with the drain plug pulled, and the shoreline around the lake started crumbling away into the river. Thousands of tons of clay and sediment that built up over the past hundred-plus years just disappeared.

Several homes on the lake began to move as the earth below them disappeared, according to the owner of the land where the homes sit.

PacifiCorp, which rents the land to the homeowners, has condemned at least two homes and threatens to condemn another, because the company says the houses are in danger of sliding into the river.

The company's spokesman, Tom Gauntt, summed it up in four words: "It's just a safety issue," he told KATU. Gauntt went on to say, "We just want to make sure that nothing is going to happen to the structure or anyone in the structure."

A family that has owned one of the homes for almost 40 years doesn't believe their house is in jeopardy. They say the home and the property held up after the dam was breached and even after one of the wettest winters on record. Lance Cyphers told KATU's Thom Jensen, "We got hit hard with water (during the winter and spring) without redirecting any of it, and I think we're in good shape since we made it through that."

Cyphers, his father and his sister are now in a legal fight with PacifiCorp to save their home. They say they have been requesting documents from PacifiCorp that proves the home is in danger for more than eight months, but they say PacifiCorp has not provided a shred of paper as proof. Lance says, "They're a large corporation - and we're a small guy. You know? And - it's hard to know if you're getting the truth out of them."

The Cyphers family hired a geotechnical company named Terra Firma to do its own research. A staff member who secured other homes in danger behind the former dam says the Cypher home can be saved.

Chris Gordon says bedrock is only 10 to 15 feet below the home and that his workers can tie the foundation right into the bedrock. Gordon told KATU, "We're going to drive right down into the bedrock itself - and tie right into it." He said other homes, which have already been shored-up were in much more peril.

The Cyphers say it's worth the effort. Krista Lee Cyphers says there are too many memories to just give up the home, "It's hard to put into words what it means to us."

She added, "After all of the blood, sweat and tears that we put into this place - to not - to just lay down and let them have it would be foolish."

Lance and Krista's father, Lawrence Cyphers, told KATU, "I want the cabin fixed. I want to stay here. I've been coming up here all my life."

Lance says it was always the plan to keep the home in the family for generations to come. As he put it, "I want to save this place for the great grandkids that I am never going to meet."

The Cyphers have become suspicious, wondering why PacifiCorp wants their home. They asked if there could be an ulterior motive.

PacifiCorp's spokesman says it's just a safety issue, and that's it. He told KATU that experts determined the home wasn't safe, not PacfiCorp managers. Gauntt says, "The engineers and the geo-tech folks; that's their business to make those kinds of determinations of, you know, can this safely stay where it is."

The Cyphers say they’re still waiting for the proof from those experts, and they will continue to fight for their home.