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Commentaries and editorials

Fish Projects Await Scientists' Opinions

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin
- October 15, 1999

More than half of the anticipated funding remains unallocated while the Northwest Power Planning Council awaits the rendering of scientific opinions on more than 100 direct fish and wildlife project proposals for fiscal year 2000.

The Council in September passed through 158 projects that had the benefit of positive reviews from both the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority and the Independent Scientific Review Panel. The projects totaled $68 million in funding. The Council's recommendations are sent to the Bonneville Power Administration, which promised $127 million annually in ratepayer revenues to fund the program. The fiscal year began on Oct. 1.

Left on the table are project proposals with which the Council, CBFWA or ISRP took issue. The largest grouping includes 104 new or ongoing projects CBFWA recommended for funding, but that the ISRP said either delay funding, fund in part or do not fund at all.

The ISRP agreed to take a second look at those projects and any new information the sponsors could provide. The scientific panel is expected to report back on October 26, less that a week before the Council's Nov. 2-3 meeting in Twin Falls, Idaho.

A second list -- 40 "new" or "innovative" proposals favored in varying degrees by the ISRP but panned by CBFWA -- await the funding shakeout. How deep the Council decides to fund that list depends on how many of the 104 projects now in the so-called "fix-it loop" ultimately get funding.

Those that get a "yes" vote from ISRP members following the second review could earn a Council funding recommendation in early November. Those existing projects that receive a second "no" vote from the ISRP will be offered some means of making a direct policy plea to the Council, though the format and timing from an appeal process is undecided.

"If 99 came back 'do not fund' " the Council and staff would be limited in how much time it could devote to each, said Bob Lohn, the director of the Council's Fish and Wildlife Division. A staff memo had recommended that project sponsors denied twice by the ISRP be allowed to present "compelling policy reasons why the project should be recommended for funding notwithstanding the ISRP's recommendations."

The sheer volume of such appeals would determine the process, whether they are judged by staff or directly by the Council, through written submittals or in formal presentations.

"We'll have to see how many projects we have to deal with and tailor our process accordingly," said Council member Eric Bloch of Oregon.

The funding fate of many of the 40 new and/or innovative project proposals, totaling more than $9 million, depends on how many of those 104 projects survive the fix-it loop.

The ISRP was asked to rank the new and/or innovative projects. The ISRP, in a 1999 review of the program and that year's proposals expressed the need for the Council to "assure that projects submitted from outside the traditional circles" be given strong consideration," Lohn said.

In the ranking process, the ISRP and its Peer Review Group identified eight projects that were a cut above the rest, receiving "outstanding reviews". Those projects totaled nearly $2.3 million.

A second set of "middle ranked proposals," numbers 9-29, received "general consensus for support by the ISRP and PRG.

The lowest ranked proposals "contain worthwhile elements in the judgment of the ISRP and PRG. However, the recommendations contain significant qualifications...," according to the ISRP ranking document.

In a memo to the Council, staff recommended "that decisions on these projects be held until the "fix-it loop" review report is back from the ISRP and there is more certainty regarding budget remaining after the second block of "yes/yes" projects flowing from this review are recommended."

The Council also decided to wait until another day to decide whether to support funding for projects BPA terms "non-discretionary" or, as described in the Council staff memo, "intrinsically governmental (funding commitments) which may not be transferred or voided."

Included is a placeholder request from BPA to reserve the $1.176 million requested for analytical work planned by the PATH scientific team. The ISRP recommended no funding for the six projects and suggested that PATH had outlived its usefulness. The ISRP did say a similar process should be created to carry out needed analysis in the future. The proposals are among those in the "fix-it loop."

If the PATH process succumbs "we want that capability to go out and do analysis," BPA's John Rowan said of the request to keep a $1.176 million placeholder in the 2000 budget.

Related Links:
Northwest Power Planning Council
Salmon Plans that Failed Reviews Won't Get Funding Seattle P-I, 10/15/99
Some BPA Plans to Aid Salmon Take Hit in Review Oregonian, 6/18/99

Barry Espenson
Fish Projects Await Scientists' Opinions
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 15, 1999

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