By Wilson Walker

OROVILLE (KPIX) – “We’re here to dedicate more than a dam and a lake,” Governor Ronald Reagan declared beneath the Oroville Dam in 1968. “Out there is the tallest dam in the United States.”

Almost 51 years after it was dedicated by Governor Reagan, the Oroville Dam is getting ready for yet another opening day — the first use of the new spillway, after the spillway failure and dam crisis of February 2017.

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“It was a mass panic,” says Oroville Mayor Chuck Reynolds. “People taking vehicles that didn’t belong to them. It was a complete panic.”

Reynolds says Tuesday will, hopefully, just be a return to normal for the town beside the Feather River.

“I’m sure that once we initially use it, it will certainly climb down. I personally have not heard any complaint or worry about any of it,” he said.

Tuesday’s release is not any kind of special procedure, it is effectively a return to the normal operating procedures of the dam and the river.

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“So this is getting back to more normal operations,” explained Erin Mellon of the California Department of Water Resources in mid-March.

“This is how the lake has been managed, going back to when it was built in the 60s,” said Mellon.

The department has been signaling a release was likely as lake levels climbed with rain and runoff into the lake.

As for the residents downstream, many are already looking past the spillway benchmark. They’re hoping construction here will wind down so the public can finally regain access to Oroville Dam Road.

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“It’s been closed for over two years now,” said Mayor Reynolds. “We would like access the access to be back to be able to utilize that.”