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New Alliance Pushes Breaching of Dams

by Jeff Barnard of the Associated Press
The Oregonian - February 16, 2000

Native Americans and lower Columbia River gill-netters
join forces in their efforts to restore salmon

ASTORIA -- Representatives of Native American tribes and gill-netters, who have traditionally fought over their shares of the salmon returning to the Columbia River, met Tuesday to build an alliance to demand that the federal government breach four hydroelectric dams.

"The tribes and the commercial fishermen down here found out the hard way that it is time to stop fighting over the last fish," said Rick George, a program manager for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

The meeting was prompted by the fourth of 13 federal hearings around the Northwest and Alaska taking testimony on options for preventing the extinction of 12 Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead runs.

About 120 people from the lower Columbia River, some of them gill-netters who have lost their livelihoods since declines in salmon populations forced deep cutbacks in their fishing seasons, attended the hearing at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds.

The most controversial option being considered is the removal of the earthen portion of four hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River, which produce about 5 percent of the power sold by the Bonneville Power Administration and have locks that allow barge traffic to serve Lewiston, Idaho, more than 300 miles from the Pacific.

Advocates argue that breaching the dams would help salmon by restoring natural conditions to 140 miles of river, while opponents argue that the Lewiston economy would be devastated.

Steve Fick, owner of Fishhawk Fisheries, one of the four fish processing plants remaining in Astoria, said the government appeared to favor protecting jobs in Lewiston and had shown no regard for the job losses in Astoria from declining salmon harvests.

One of the few voices in favor of keeping the dams was Bob Bernert, chief executive of Bernert Barge Lines of Oregon City.

Bernert warned that removing the dams would contribute to global warming by requiring the burning of 1.8 billion gallons of fossil fuel to replace the lost electricity, and take 35,000 acres of farmland out of irrigation.

Besides working with people on the lower Columbia, representatives of the Umatilla tribes are developing ties to people in the Snake River region of Eastern Washington, said Deb Croswell, a spokeswoman for the tribes.

"This will allow us to go to Congress with a plan to be implemented because it is the political will of the people," George said. "If it turns out the wrong decision is made, the tribes will litigate with more force and power than has been seen in this region since the Treaty of 1855."

Treaties signed by the Columbia and Snake River tribes when they ceded lands to the United States in the 19th century guaranteed them rights to half the salmon in the Columbia in perpetuity for subsistence, economic and religious use.

by Jeff Barnard of the Associated Press
New Alliance Pushes Breaching of Dams
The Oregonian, February 16, 2000

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