Gorton: Breaching May Help Salmonby Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, June 20, 2000
The Washington senator is still opposed to taking out four dams
because of the economic and social costs
U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton said Monday that breaching the four lower Snake River dams would increase the odds of saving some endangered stocks of salmon but that he remains opposed to the action because of the economic and social costs.
"If you ask the narrow question, will breaching the four Snake River dams increase the possibility of recovering one or two endangered runs of salmon on the upper Snake, I'd probably have to answer that question yes," Gorton, R-Wash., said during an editorial board meeting at The Oregonian. "That doesn't answer the question of whether or not you ought to remove the dams."
Gorton is among the staunchest opponents of breaching the dams. The National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are considering breaching, which would involve partially dismantling the dams so the river could flow freely.
Breaching would end electricity generation and barge navigation in a 140-mile stretch of the lower Snake.
Gorton's statement surprised conservationists who support breaching.
"In the past, his rhetoric has been that the dams are not a problem," said Chris Zimmer, a spokesman for Save Our Wild Salmon in Seattle. "This cuts through that myth."
But Bruce Lovelin, executive director of Portland-based Columbia River Alliance, said his organization does not think breaching the dams would help salmon. The alliance represents industrial river users. "In our view, the science is still very much uncertain," Lovelin said.
Gorton said the most precise scientific studies conclude that breaching the dams would increase the chances of saving Snake River salmon stocks from a range of 50 percent to 52 percent to a range of 65 percent to 67 percent. But he said the question is a broad public policy matter that should not be answered only by scientists.
"I also believe that far greater deference should be paid to the people whose lives are going to be affected by these decisions," Gorton said.
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