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Hundreds in Pasco Voice Opinions on Dam Removal

by Lynda V. Mapes
Seattle Times - February 18, 2000

PASCO - Hold a hearing in Seattle on salmon, and people beg for tough regulations for the sake of the fish. Hold it in Pasco, and residents beg for mercy for the sake of their farms, their families and their way of life.

More than 700 people packed a hearing yesterday convened by federal officials taking testimony on a range of Snake River salmon-recovery issues, including the removal of the four Lower Snake River dams.

In long back-to-back afternoon and night hearings, the feds got an earful from the Washington where people make a living in orchards and vineyards watered from the reservoir behind Ice Harbor Dam just outside Pasco.

Farmers came from the inland wheat country, too, to talk about their reliance on the river-transport system, made possible by locks at the dams. Barge transportation for their grain helps Washington farmers compete in a highly competitive global market.

Dam removal had few friends in this crowd, with many sporting "SAVE OUR DAMS" stickers on their shirts and yellow ribbons tied around their arms symbolizing support for the concrete.

Farmer Brenda Alford laid it on the line with typical flair: "You must begin to listen or face the consequences of civil disobedience," she told a panel of federal officials, including William Stelle, Northwest regional director for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"Agency drones will not be allowed to take away our way of life. If you East Coast Yankees thought the South put up a fight, you ain't seen nothing yet."

Many blamed the plight of the salmon on other causes, especially fishing. Tribes with a treaty right to a commercial gill-net fishery on the Columbia River were bashed for exercising it.

"How does $2-a-pound salmon sales have any relation to fishing for ceremonial use?" thundered Clint Diddier, and the room erupted in cheers.

"We've progressed from being the freest nation in the world to being unfree. Government can and does pose a threat to our liberties in this salmon issue."

Tim Stearns, regional director of the National Wildlife Federation, said that just cutting back fishing won't bring back salmon. "We've picked on (fishing). Picked on sea lions. Picked on terns. It's not that simple."

Cecilia Bearchum, 76, silenced the room when she spoke, first in her native Indian language and then in English, describing her people's reliance on the river for nine generations and the need to take better care of nature.

"We are greedy. Vain. And thoughtless.

"Our God has given gifts to us; we have not done well by them. You cannot fool nature."

But many said they were astonished that the feds would even consider an idea as stupid, in their view, as taking out the dams.

"Breaching the dams is about as useful as bringing back the horse and buggy for public transportation ... or getting rid of the flush toilet," said Dave Glessner. "Don't wash away productive farmland and put a dust bowl in its place."

To others, not putting the river to human use cuts against their cultural grain. "The water would just dump itself into the Pacific Ocean and not be used, and that's a great waste to me," said farmer Nancy DeLorenzo.

The dam-removal proposal will continue to receive serious consideration, "as well it should," Stelle said. People in farm country have to figure out what else they'll do to save the salmon if the dams are to remain, he said.

"I heard a lot about dams, but I haven't heard a lot about water or about land use or about cows in streams.

"The region is still very focused on the quick fix, the silver bullet. We need to broaden the debate so it's not just about dams. What commitments are local governments and people willing to make to rehabilitate the health of our stream systems?

"Whether we have a real choice here depends on our performance on habitat."

Lynda Mapes
Hundreds in Pasco Voice Opinions on Dam Removal
Seattle Times, February 18, 2000

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