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Dam Issue Dominates Gore Visit to Region

by Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, June 10, 2000

The vice president tours the Hanford Reach,
then hews to his stand on studying the idea of breaching

RICHLAND, Wash. -- Vice President Al Gore called on this river-dependent region to celebrate the preservation of the Hanford Reach but was faced with the demand of addressing the future of Snake River dams.

He didn't budge.

Gore avoided the question of what should happen to the dams, now under consideration for removal to help restore salmon runs. Instead, he reinforced the Clinton administration's effort to continue studying whether breaching the four Snake dams -- partly dismantling them to let the river flow naturally -- is necessary and scientifically justifiable.

Ultimately, he said, any actions taken to save salmon must not result in economic dislocation.

Breaching would lower the level of the Snake River, making barging on it impossible and ending electrical generation at the dams. Scientists favor breaching as the best aid for salmon, but many river-connected communities, industrial users of the river system and others oppose it.

Gore did say he is committed to saving salmon. And, if elected president, he said he would convene a forum of federal, state, private and tribal representatives to find a regionally acceptable solution.

"In the coming months we will see a comprehensive federal plan to save the salmon population," Gore told 500 people gathered on a Washington State University lawn overlooking the Columbia River.

Gore made it clear that he would accept only a plan that reversed the decline of Snake River salmon, which have not significantly recovered since being listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1991 and 1992.

"Today I want to let you know that I am deeply comitted to saving and restoring salmon in this region," he said. "Extinction is not an option."

Gore made his remarks after spending nearly an hour on a small boat touring the Hanford Reach, designated Friday as a national monument and prized as salmon spawning grounds.

At Gore's appearances elsewhere, however, the subject of dams was everywhere.

At the Tri Cities Airport in Pasco, where Air Force Two arrived from Los Angeles, a noisy crowd of three dozen demonstrators brandishing an enormous banner that said "Save Our Dams" greeted Gore. Volunteers for George W. Bush, the Republican presidential candidate, distributed fliers calling for Gore to announce his position on dams.

Bush has said repeatedly he is against breaching dams.

Conservationists in the audience, who are mounting a national campaign in favor of breaching, said they had hoped the vice president would endorse breaching. "We would have liked better leadership on the four dams issue," said Brady Bennon, Washington field organizer for Save Our Wild Salmon, a Seattle-based conservation group.

Tribal leaders, however, took from Gore's celebration of the Hanford Reach implicit support for free-flowing rivers and the removal of dams that could help create them.

"He said it clearly," said Jay Minthorn, a member of the board of trustees of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation. "This is a natural river and is exactly what we want: clear, cool and clean water."

Gore said that although he would not accept extinction, he also would not accept economic dislocation to save fish. He said it was necessary to find a way to restore runs without causing economic catastrophe.

"If I am entrusted with the presidency, and I ask for your trust today, I will bring together all interested parties to find a real solution," he said. "Mine will be an inclusive approach, based on solid science."

Jonathan Brinckman
Dam Issue Dominates Gore Visit to Region
The Oregonian, June 10, 2000

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