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Bush is Urged to Back Salmon Plan

by Charles Pope, Washington Correspondent
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 15, 2003

Proposal could include removal of 4 Snake River dams

WASHINGTON -- About 120 members of the House -- including 12 Republicans -- sent a letter to President Bush yesterday asking him to consider a scientifically valid approach for saving salmon, including possibly tearing down four dams on the Snake River.

Written by Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer, the letter asks the president to support a plan "guided by the best available economics and science" to replace an approach deemed unworkable by a federal judge in May.

The letter to Bush amplifies concerns voiced by U.S. District Judge James Redden and by the General Accounting Office pointing out that current practices have not produced results despite costing $3.3 billion. The effort that Redden dismissed was based largely on pulling fish from the Columbia and Snake rivers, putting them in trucks and barges and carrying them around dams.

The plan also called for restoring habitat as a means to increasing the populations of endangered salmon and steelhead.

Redden concluded that the plan violated the Endangered Species Act, adding that there was no certainty it would succeed in time to save disappearing salmon.

Redden ordered the National Marine Fisheries Service to rewrite the plan within a year.

Spurred by Redden's decision, the lawmakers urged "that all scientifically credible options, including ... partial removal of the four dams on the lower Snake River ... be considered."

Among those signing the letter were Reps. Adam Smith, Jay Inslee and Jim McDermott, all Democrats from Washington. The most prominent Republicans endorsing the letter are James Sensenbrenner and Tom Petri, both from Wisconsin. Sensenbrenner is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Petri is the second-most senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Inslee, however, stressed that he does not favor dismantling the four Snake River dams.

"I am not proposing breaching these dams and I think it's very important to say that at the outset," Inslee said in an interview.

"The reason I signed the letter is that the planning document needs to be done in a way that does not expose it to being thrown out in court. If it is thrown out in court, it could result in a federal judge assuming operational control for the whole river system. That is the last thing we need in the Northwest."

A spokesman for Smith said Smith's concern was based more on the economic impact than on the biological shortcomings of the salmon restoration plan.

"We have already spent $3.3 billion (to restore salmon), and he wanted to make sure that George Bush gets something that was fiscally responsible, scientifically effective and legally defensible," said Smith's spokesman, Lars Anderson.

McDermott has sponsored legislation that would authorize several studies to examine transportation and energy alternatives, and community transitions in the event that dam removal is needed in order to comply with legal and tribal treaty obligations and recover the Snake River's wild salmon and steelhead.

Its most controversial provision provides federal agencies authority to remove the dams if needed to restore imperiled salmon.

No one believes the dams are likely to come down. A spokesman for Bush said the president remains adamantly opposed to demolishing the Snake River dams.

During a visit to the Ice Harbor Dam in August, Bush said, "It's an important part of the past, and I'm here to tell you it's going to be a crucial part of the future."

Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., who like all Western Republicans opposes breaching the dams, urged all sides to present "reasonable" alternatives.

"The energy of these members of Congress would be better focused on supporting existing efforts to improve salmon runs," he said.

Charles Pope, Washington Correspondent
Bush is Urged to Back Salmon Plan
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 15, 2003

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