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Corps Chief has Big and Little Plans

by Eric Barker
The Lewiston Tribune, September 6, 2000

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Col. Richard P. Wagenaar wants to address big issues such as salmon recovery and recreation on Dworshak Reservoir.

But the new commander of the corps' Walla Walla district also wants to solve lesser problems that are big deals to small towns.

Wagenaar, 41, took the reins of the district in July when he replaced Lt. Col. William E. Bulen, who completed his two-year stint. Wagenaar visited Lewiston Tuesday and will tour Dworshak Reservoir and meet with the people of Orofino today.

During his time at Walla Walla, Wagenaar wants to make the Continuing Authority Program work for the small communities in the district and help the environment at the same time.

The program pays for small-scale flood control projects. But Wagenaar says flood control should go beyond protecting life and property and strive to improve habitat for fish and wildlife while also adding to quality of life.

That may mean updating a city's aging flood control system, that amounts to a stream or river hemmed in by concrete and rebar.

Instead of just replacing the crumbling concrete, Wagenaar would like see a living stream created with habitat for fish and wildlife.

"It meets a community's flood control needs. It's something that is aesthetically appealing instead of a concrete ditch, and it's ecosystem-friendly.

"They are small projects, but they are big issues in small communities."

The colonel also will wrestle with issues such as salmon passage at the four lower Snake River dams, which are big deals to small and large communities alike. The corps is slated to make a final recommendation on the operation of the dams next spring.

That decision has been overshadowed by the National Marine Fisheries Service's draft decision to leave the dams in place for at least 10 years while other measures, such has habitat improvement, harvest reductions and hatchery reforms, are given a chance to work.

But Wagenaar said the fisheries service's decision does not take the pressure off him and the corps.

"I'm going to make my recommendation based on the science we have in the corps," he said. That recommendation will be to operate the projects as they are now, make major modifications to aid fish passage or breach the dams.

The summer operation of Dworshak Reservoir is another challenge for the colonel, but one that is inextricably linked to salmon recovery. The draft biological opinion issued by NMFS calls for annual summertime drawdowns of the reservoir to continue.

The service, along with other federal salmon managers and biologists from Washington and Oregon, recently asked the corps to drop the reservoir an additional 20 feet to aid returning adult steelhead and fall chinook.

Idaho, the Nez Perce Tribe and the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission objected to the move. Wagenaar said the corps did not favor additional drafting of the project and was surprised at the request it ultimately rejected.

There is little the agency can do to stop the annual evacuation of 80 feet of water from the dam, but Wagenaar said he will look for ways to improve recreation at the reservoir.

"I think we have a good working relationship with the community. I think we have to somehow (reduce) the impacts up there with what's happening with the reservoir."

Eric Barker
Corps Chief has Big and Little Plans
The Lewiston Tribune, September 6, 2000

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