the film
Commentaries and editorials

An Act of Snake-Dam Contrition
Seattle Council Members Try to Mend a Breach

by Jim Brunner & Beth Kaiman
Seattle Times - July 3, 2001

Proving it's never too late to say you're sorry, four Seattle City Council members toured Eastern Washington last week to apologize for a resolution they passed last August calling for the removal of four Snake River dams.

Richard Conlin, Heidi Wills and Jan Drago took a boat trip Friday up the Snake River and toured Ice Harbor Dam, one of the four hydroelectric dams, while Council President Margaret Pageler took a separate trip to Southeast Washington's Lower Granite Dam for the same purpose.

The four were contrite and said they should have consulted with Eastern Washington officials before passing the resolution favored by Seattle environmentalists.

"We made a mistake. We blew it," said Councilman Richard Conlin, co-sponsor of the resolution.

The resolution called for removing the Snake River dams to help save salmon, whose runs are threatened by the river-blocking structures. It suggested developing alternative power to make up for the lost electricity.

The resolution had no real force, because removing the federally owned dams would require an act of Congress.

But critics seized on it as an example of what they see as Seattle's liberal arrogance.

At least 11 outraged communities in Eastern Washington passed resolutions or sent letters in response. Some suggested that Seattle remove its own Ballard Locks linking Lake Union and Lake Washington with Puget Sound.

Even Seattle's Frank Chopp, Democratic co-speaker of the state House of Representatives, privately scolded the council.

Pageler said yesterday that council staffers had considered the science of breaching dams, but not the economic impact on Eastern Washington.

"What we didn't take the time to do was to listen to the people who would be directly affected. ... Our mistake then was not being thoughtful enough," said Pageler, who was out of town when the council approved the Snake River dam resolution.

Conlin said yesterday he didn't think the trip necessarily changed his mind on the underlying issue of whether the dams ought to be removed. But he conceded the council should have been more thoughtful.

"Neither side of the state can thrive without the other," he said.

Despite the differences on the dam issue, the message Friday was unity, as the council representatives rode a huge tugboat up the glimmering river on a sunny day.

"A little bit of firsthand experience always brings everything into focus a little better than sitting in a meeting room," said Steve Appel, president of the Washington Farm Bureau. "I wouldn't say that we have changed minds, but we have to try to break down that barrier, the `Cascade Curtain.' "

Tri-Cities representatives said that Washington must deal with too many outside interests to survive infighting, and that Tri-Cities issues eventually do affect Seattle.

Seattle officials agreed.

"It is one state," said Drago, who had never before visited the Tri-Cities. "I think we need to ... know more about each other."

Jim Brunner and Beth Kaiman
The Associated Press was used in this report.
An Act of Snake-Dam Contrition Seattle Council Members Try to Mend a Breach
Seattle Times Company, July 3, 2001

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation