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Feds Urged to Breach Dams

by Associated Press
Spokesman Review, February 4, 2000

First of 13 hearings on salmon heavily favored dam removal

PORTLAND -- Fishing guides, environmentalists, biologists and Indian tribes told federal authorities Thursday to take the bold step of breaching four dams on the lower Snake River because it represents the best chance for saving salmon runs.

A caravan of about 80 trucks hauling jetboats and driftboats, bearing signs such as "Salmon are jobs," circled the Columbia Conference Center, where heads of federal agencies wrestling with the prickly issue heard public testimony.

The hearing was the first of 13 around the Northwest and Alaska on the federal government's plans for restoring dwindling runs of salmon in the Columbia River Basin.

The most controversial aspect is whether to breach the earthen portions of four lower Snake dams, returning 140 miles of river through southeastern Washington now impounded in reservoirs to their natural state, but ending barge shipments of grain from Lewiston and reducing the amount of cheap electric power sold by the Bonneville Power Administration.

Specifically, the hearings are taking public comment on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' draft environmental impact statement listing options for saving four Snake River salmon runs protected by the Endangered Species Act, and the federal government's All-H Paper considering options for altering harvest, hatcheries, habitat and hydroelectric dams.

Jeff Curtis of Trout Unlimited, a sport fishing and environmental group, told National Marine Fisheries Service regional director Will Stelle that the science behind the All Hs Paper was flawed from the start for considering salmon runs viable until they are down to just one fish.

Don Sampson, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, warned that the tribes were ready to go to court to enforce treaties promising them the right to harvest Columbia Basin salmon in perpetuity if the federal government failed to reverse the decline.

"The biological choice is clear. Breaching is required," Sampson said.

Speaking for Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, Joyce Cohen warned the federal government that it must start making progress on meeting standards of the clean water act in managing for salmon.

Of the 51 people who testified during the afternoon session, 33 called for breaching the dams.

Bruce Lovelin of the Columbia River Alliance, representing barge operators, irrigators and aluminum smelters, characterized the call for breaching as an emotional plea, not backed up by science. He argued that barging young salmon around dams has been effective and warned that breaching would release a torrent of harmful sediment downstream.

Capt. Mike Simonsen of the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots said that for each barge that can't transport grain downriver due to breaking, 134 more tractor-trailor trucks will be driving into Portland, increasing traffic and air pollution.

Bob Tacket said he was afraid he and 350 others at an aluminum smelter would lose their jobs if cheap hydroelectric power were less available due to dam breaching.

"Consider the extinction of 350 high-paying jobs," he said.

Associated Press
Feds Urged to Breach Dams
Spokesman Review, February 4, 2000

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