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Fed Judge Grants Stay
in Dam Litigation

by Eric Barker
Moscow-Pullman Daily News, February 10, 2024

Michael Simon OKs five-year halt in salmon case involving potential breaching

Graphic: Adult Salmon and Steelhead returns to the Lower Snake River as counted at the highest dam in place at the time. (1962-2022) The federal judge overseeing decades of salmon and dams litigation in the Snake and Columbia River basin granted a five-year stay in the case.

In doing so, District Court Judge Michael Simon, of Portland, Ore., signed off on the agreement the Biden administration negotiated with the Nez Perce and other tribes with treaty fishing rights on the rivers.

The agreement known as the Columbia River Restoration Initiative commits the Bonneville Power Administration to spending $300 million to improve salmon habitat and upgrade aging hatcheries. The government also pledged to give the Nez Perce Tribe, Yakama Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation financial and technical assistance in developing as much as 3,000 megawatts of renewable energy projects. If Congress were ever authorized to breach the four lower Snake River dams, a move advocated for by many salmon advocates, the tribes would be able to count their projects as replacement for power now generated at the dams.

Both sides of the debate over how best to save wild Snake River salmon and steelhead have called the provisions in the agreement a roadmap or blueprint for future breaching. It was cheered by the tribes and fishing and conservation groups as a potential source of progress in the decades-old fight.

But those on the other side, including farmers, grain shippers, public power interests and some Republican members of Congress, said the deal puts their constituents and customers in peril. Some of them submitted legal filings saying the agreement was crafted behind closed doors and violates federal law. They urged Simon to reject the stay that can be renewed for another five years.

The tribes and conservation groups countered that a stay halts contentious litigation and may ultimately lead to a settlement of the case.

Simon ruled Thursday that a stay would not harm any party's ability to challenge provisions in the agreement and said the "orderly course of justice is best served by staying this litigation."

"This is great news allowing our collaborative work to advance Columbia River restoration to move forward," Earthjustice senior attorney Amanda Goodin said in a news release. "We have agreed to pause our litigation for five and up to 10 years to work in partnership to restore the Columbia Basin."

Opponents expressed disappointment and said the stay will make the region's power supply less reliable and affordable and changes that the agreement makes to the amount and timing of water spilled at the dams will make shipping on the Snake River less safe.

"Ultimately, this will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and set us back on our region's climate objectives while the biggest threats to salmon recovery remain unaddressed," said Heather Stebbings, interim executive director of Northwest RiverPartners.

Eric Barker
Fed Judge Grants Stay in Dam Litigation
Moscow-Pullman Daily News, February 10, 2024

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