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Judge Denies Independent Salmon Plan Review

by Joseph B. Frazier, Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 21, 2008

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A federal judge denied a motion Thursday for an independent scientific review of the latest government plan to protect Columbia River Basin salmon, saying he first wants to determine if the plan is flawed and to fix it if it is.

U.S. District Judge James A. Redden has twice rejected plans intended to balance salmon preservation with hydroelectric power production, calling them inadequate. He said he doesn't want to take the same action he did in 2004 and 2006.

"I don't want to pull the plug; I want to talk," he said.

In June, the environmental group Earthjustice filed suit, claiming the plan issued in May ignores the best possible science and relies too heavily on restoring habitat and reforming hatchery operations instead of dealing with the dams, which kill large numbers of salmon.

Redden warned last year that he would give the job of restoring Columbia Basin salmon to an independent panel of experts if the government failed again.

Redden did not say when he might rule on the new plan, which is supported by government agencies and some tribes, but the timetable discussed Thursday indicated it could be several months.

The independent review was sought by the State of Oregon and the National Wildlife Federation, both of whom consider the new plan too similar to the ones Redden rejected.

Todd True, representing the National Wildlife Federation, said adding independent scientific opinion "could be an aid to the court" in its evaluation of the new plan.

But U.S. Department of Justice attorney Coby Howell said federal agencies held more than 200 meetings with interested parties since Redden rejected the 2006 plan and listened as it never had before.

He said to suggest the new plan made no progress "does not sit well with some of the people involved in the process."

Redden said he saw signs of progress, but said a scientific panel could be convened if he finds the plan flawed and urged both sides to get the case moving.

"Brief it, I'll read it," he said, adding he hoped a quick resolution may appease those who wonder "why the hell the government can't do anything right."

David Leith, the attorney representing the State of Oregon, said the state has filed notice of intent to sue the Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation if they go ahead with announced plans to immediately implement the new biological opinion.

He said two of the agencies have said they plan to do so and the third is expected to announce its intent soon.

Joseph B. Frazier, Associated Press
Judge Denies Independent Salmon Plan Review
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 21, 2008

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