Voices Sound Off From All Angles on Salmonby Mike Lee
Tri-City Herald, January 25, 2000
Holy smolts, Batman!
Is that a publicity stunt?
Betting Congress simply will tally the numbers for and against breaching the lower Snake River dams, interest groups have cranked up their promotion machines for a pivotal series of public hearings that start next week in Portland.
"It will be somewhat of a straw poll about how the region feels," said Chris Zimmer at Save Our Wild Salmon in Seattle. "We are now, after all the science and economic studies, in the home stretch of delivering to the Clinton administration the opinion of the American public and it is now up to them to do the right thing."
Enter Adam West - famous for his TV role as Batman - and Hollywood star Mariel Hemingway. They joined Alar-hating actress Meryl Streep in Eastern Washington's annals of the rich and infamous last week when the longtime Idaho residents released a joint press statement with Taxpayers for Common Sense to urge breaching the four dams.
"Soon the salmon may be only a memory," West said. "We must not let that happen."
West and Hemingway, however, aren't the only ones trying to influence the salmon system. Virtually everyone with a stake in the Northwest's environment and economy is doing the same.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber last week cuffed Vice President Al Gore for being a Northwest salmon deadbeat, potentially a powerful incentive for the environmentally minded Gore to appease his green political base with a clear Snake River directive.
"I think the federal government has taken a hike on the difficult policies and decisions we have to make in the Columbia Basin," Kitzhaber told the Oregonian newspaper. "It's a decision to put politics ahead of policy."
Northwest tribes - heavy hitters in salmon issues - are headed to Washington, D.C., for government-to-government talks today in which they are expected to push for dam breaching as a way to meet U.S. treaty obligations to Indian fishing rights.
River users - towns, ports and companies - are trying to generate 100,000 letters to the Army Corps of Engineers by the end of March to support the power-producing, barge-floating dams and their reservoirs. The Columbia River Alliance is circulating a form letter that says breaching is "economically harmful and will not help recover salmon."
The Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association is preparing a response to the Corps and urging dam supporters to turn out in large numbers on the afternoon and evening of Feb. 17 at the Doubletree Hotel in Pasco. Crowds of several hundred are expected in Portland, Seattle and Spokane - typically pro-breaching cities. Vocal breaching advocates also are expected in Boise, Astoria, Sitka and Juneau. Idaho hearings in Lewiston, Idaho Falls and Twin Falls, and Montana hearings in Kalispell and Missoula round out the meeting schedule, which ends early in March.
"These communities are itching to finally tell the federal government and the Clinton Administration what they think needs to be done," Zimmer said.
The Pasco meeting starts at noon with a one-hour open house and speaker sign-up period, followed by an overview presentation by federal fish managers and a question-and-answer session. Public comments will be taken from 3 to 5 p.m., with a limit of three minutes per person.
The evening session starts at 6:30 p.m. with another overview, followed by a second public comment session at 7:30.
Environmental groups - already having gathered "tens of thousands" of postcards addressed to the vice president - are holding briefings before the Corps hearings to coach their speakers about how to say dams "don't make sense" economically or environmentally.
"It's huge crunch time in terms of showing the numbers of people in support of dam removal to our elected leaders," said Sam Mace, with the Washington Wildlife Federation in Spokane. "Congress is very influenced by public opinion, so Washington's elected leaders will be watching these hearings very closely."
Thomas Mackay at AgriNorthwest farm company in Kennewick agrees politicians will be looking at the numbers but doesn't concede victory to the East Coast ad campaigns and mass mailings by environmental groups. "I don't think they have it sewn up," he said, raising serious questions about the cost and reliability of power if the dams are breached.
All the attention is directed toward the draft environmental impact statement on the dams released by the Corps in December. The agency, after spending about five years and $20 million studying the dams, delayed saying what should happen to them until after the coming round of public hearings. The question is whether removing the dams is the best - or only - way to recover endangered salmon and steelhead runs on the Snake River.
Also part of the hearings is the federal All-H paper, which examines the tradeoffs necessary for Northwest salmon recovery.
Congress - the decision-maker on the federal dams - likely will get to face the issue next year. If it decides to take out the dams, deconstruction would not start for at least five years, according to the Corps' draft timeline.
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