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Fish Passage Center to Close its Doors

by Mitch Lies
Capital Press, December 9, 2005

After 22 years of gathering, housing, organizing and analyzing data on salmon survival, the Portland-based Fish Passage Center is closing its doors in March - largely due to an effort by Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.

"The whole thing is hard to understand," said the center's manager, Michele DeHart. "I think we've provided a really valuable service to the states, the tribes, all the fishery managers and the public at large."

Craig inserted language in the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill in June that barred the Bonneville Power Administration from funding the center next year. The bill passed the Senate Nov. 14 and was signed into law by President Bush Nov. 19.

DeHart speculated this week that Craig wanted to close the center because of frustrations over U.S. District Judge James Redden's ruling this year to increase spills over Columbia and Snake river dams - an increase that cost the Bonneville Power Administration millions in lost hydropower revenue.

Craig is a noted supporter of the Columbia and Snake river hydropower system. In 2002 he was named "legislator of the year" by the National Hydropower Association.

Craig spokesman Dan Whiting said DeHart's contention isn't true. He said Craig wanted to close the center because "the center was doing a lot of duplicative work and ventured into advocacy and not just data collection.

"If they want to advocate on their own time, that's fine," Whiting said, "but not on the back of ratepayers."

Whiting added that closing the center "is a long time coming. It's more than Redden's decision," he said. "It just happened to coincide with that. There are a lot more people frustrated with the fish passage center than just Sen. Craig."

The center, which operates on a $1.3 million annual budget, is funded by rate payers through the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's fish and wildlife program. It was formed to provide technical support on salmon and steelhead survival within the Columbia and Snake river hydropower system.

Under language in the appropriations bill, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council is working with the Bonneville Power Administration to transfer duties of the Fish Passage Center to a similar entity that will be designed to conduct a similar function.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council began taking public comments on what the new entity should look like and how it should operate at a meeting in Portland Dec. 7.

DeHart and the 10 other Fish Passage Center staff, meanwhile, were left to wonder what they did wrong.

"Killing the messenger is not going to solve the problem," DeHart said. "We have been doing the job we're supposed to do. The things he said about us doing biased analysis just aren't true."

Mitch Lies Oregon Staff Writer
Fish Passage Center to Close its Doors
Capital Press, December 9, 2005

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