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East Side Leaders Reject Dams Vote

by Hannelore Sudermann, Staff writer
Spokesman Review, August 30, 2000

Whitman, Colfax officials voice opposition to Seattle City Council's breaching resolution

Outraged that Seattle politicians have passed a resolution in support of breaching the Snake River dams, Whitman County officials are scrambling to respond.

Whitman County Commissioner Les Wigen was stunned when he first read in The Spokesman-Review about the resolution the Seattle City Council adopted last week.

"We've worked so hard to save our dams and get out all the facts," he said, adding that he wondered why politicians in Seattle would choose to issue an opinion on the river that borders the south side of Whitman County.

He wrote a letter to Seattle's Mayor Paul Schell on Tuesday, hoping to stop him from signing the resolution before the 10-day deadline on Thursday. Both Hollis Jamison and Nora Mae Keifer, Whitman County's other commissioners, endorsed Wigen's letter.

But they had nothing to fear from the mayor of Seattle. Schell has disassociated himself from the city council's resolution, his press officer Dick Lilly said.

"The mayor deliberately asked that his name not be included," Lilly said, explaining that the mayor disagreed with the resolution. "His view is close to the federal government's position," which is not to breach the dams now, but instead spend the next five to eight years making improvements to the paths the fish have to their spawning grounds and then re-evaluate, Lilly said.

The Snake River resolution, sponsored by Seattle council members Heidi Wills and Richard Conlin, was approved unanimously by the eight council members present at an Aug. 21 meeting.

The document points out that the loss of Snake River salmon "has devastated sport and commercial fishing businesses and has caused the loss of thousands of family-wage jobs." Even though salmon have returned in high numbers this year, the salmon runs are still threatened with extinction, it states.

The resolution also notes that Eastern Washington's agriculture and transportation benefits from the dams can be maintained or replaced and that individuals and communities impacted by the removal of some of the dams may be compensated.

As one of the Bonneville Power Administration's largest customers, the city of Seattle would accept higher energy costs that would come from removing the dams, according to the resolution.

Wigen said he's concerned Seattle's council may influence the outcome of the dam dispute.

"They've got a lot of power," he said.

Wigen noted that King County, where Seattle is the seat, has more state legislators than the sum of all the Eastern Washington counties that are affected by the dams.

Following the commissioners' lead, Colfax Mayor Norma Becker sent her own letter to Seattle's city council Tuesday stating "you quite obviously made this decision based on narrow, focussed information."

In her letter she mentions the economic devastation the county would experience if the dams were removed.

"It's a very strong letter but it's a very strong position we take," she said.

Seattle's council members are on a weeklong break and couldn't be reached for comment.

The city council has good reason to take up this issue, said Samantha Mace, spokeswoman for Save Our Wild Salmon, a coalition of 55 organizations in favor of breaching the Snake River dams. "The cost of extinction is going to come back on the power customers in the Northwest," she said. "And salmon is not just a regional resource. It's a national resource. Everyone has a stake in the success of these fish."

Still, several of Whitman County's elected officials would like to know why the Seattle council decided to make this resolution on a subject hundreds of miles away.

"How would they like it if we decided to take out the Ballard Locks?" Wigen said.

Hannelore Sudermann, Staff writer
East Side Leaders Reject Dams Vote
Spokesman Review, August 30, 2000

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