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With a Defense Case Like This,
Dams Could be in Real Trouble

by Jim Fisher, Lewiston Tribune
March 1(?), 2000

For months I've been worried that I might be the only person in this region who isn't dead certain what to do about dams and fish. But lately one faction has been helping pull me from perplexity.

Opponents of breaching lower Snake River dams are doing their damnedest to show me how right breaching advocates must be.

I have trouble accepting that any camp that relies in such large numbers on such preposterous, hysterical and irrational arguments to buttress its case has much of a case to begin with. And as this debate has regressed, those arguments have grown more shrill and empty with almost each passing day.

Let's consider just a few:

Supporters of breaching are all wackos. This of course is the classic argument ad hominem, one relying on attacking your opponent instead of assailing his argument. A foremost exponent of it is Idaho's own lieutenant governor and congressman wannabe, Butch Otter.

"While dam breaching and flow augmentation may have minimal support from the extreme radical elements of the environmental movement, most people with common sense reject such notions," Otter wrote in these pages Feb. 17.

Those extreme radical elements Otter refers to include most fish biologists who have dealt with the region's declining salmon runs, for both state governments and Indian tribes; the editorial boards of two Idaho newspapers, The Idaho Statesman of Boise and The Post Register of Idaho Falls; the Northwest's most independent and best governor, John Kitzhaber of Oregon; and many other moderate and well-respected people.

The charge that breaching is a nutty idea espoused only by nuts is demonstrably false on its face. Anyone resorting to it should be assumed to have an otherwise empty quiver.

There is no good science to support breaching. It should tell you something that you hear this only from people who are not scientists. The fish biologists mentioned above have assembled enough evidence to persuade the region's Indian tribes, Gov. Kitzhaber and all six members of the last Idaho Fish and Game Commission, appointees of both Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus and Republican Gov. Phil Batt, that the science is on the side of breaching.

Notice I said "evidence." No, there is no proof, any more than there is proof the universe is older than the 10,000 years creationists say it is. I recently asked a fish biologist friend of mine who lives elsewhere and has no dog in this fight about the odds breaching will succeed in restoring fish runs. His best guess was 80 percent.

Inconclusive? You bet. But a far cry from no good science to support breaching.

Breaching would cause an economic collapse in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley and surrounding region. This is less bogus than the first two, because at least it has a grain of truth in it. Bypassing the dams that made Lewiston an inland port would cost some jobs, and raise transportation costs for some shippers. But the extent of the effects have been so distorted by people making this claim you might think we would be left with nothing but ghost towns a few years after the dams were breached.

Potlatch Corp., remember, was here before the dams were. And shame on the region's largest employer for not repudiating the fearmongers who say its jobs will disappear if the dams do.

Lewiston itself was Idaho's fourth largest city when the last dam, Lower Granite, made it a "seaport." It is now Idaho's eighth largest city, and the Port of Lewiston continues to impose an annual property tax on Nez Perce County residents to finance its operations.

Claims by breaching advocates of the economic benefits that would flow to the area if salmon return might be as extravagant as forecasts of disaster. I would expect a little of both to start with, and wouldn't venture a guess for the long run.

Breaching isn't about fish at all but is part of a government/socialist conspiracy for greater control over Westerners. This one -- as advanced recently by former Clarkston City Councilman Cliff Wasem and current Lewiston City Councilman John Currin -- is the biggest hoot of all. If there is socialism involved here, it is in the dams themselves. They are government-built, government-operated monuments to socialized power generation, irrigation and navigation. How dismantling them and sending the bureaucrats who run them away could constitute socialism requires a leap through the looking glass. I'm sorry, but I'm staying on this side.

Am I being unfair here, selecting the worst of the debate's points and ignoring the best? To some extent, yes. I have heard better, from state Sen. Joe Stegner and a few others.

But ask yourself this: As you read and listen to the arguments against breaching in this community this year, including from most public officials other than Stegner, how many of them reflect respect for science, history and logic, and how many mirror the above?

Then ask yourself which you find more believable.

Jim Fisher, is a columnist and editorial writer for the Tribune.
With a Defense Case Like This, Dams Could be in Real Trouble
Lewiston Tribune, March 1(?), 2000

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