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Breaching Advocates Head for Tri-Cities

by Mike Lee
Tri-City Herald, February 17, 2000

Forces arranged against the lower Snake River dams won't concede the Tri-Cities without a fight.

Conservationists and environmentalists are converging today on the Mid-Columbia from Idaho, Spokane and Portland, hoping to inspire residents to speak out against the four Snake dams.

"We are not giving away any of these hearings," said Jim Baker with the Sierra Club in Pullman, who plans to be at today's federal hearing. "We're working very hard to make sure that the public which supports salmon is heard at this hearing and at every last one of them."

The anti-dam contingent is entering the bastion of dam defense, perhaps the only place in the Northwest where the lower Snake hearing is expected to heavily favor keeping the dams and looking for other ways to save salmon. A recent Clarkston hearing was also expected to heavily favor the dams, but opinions there turned out to be more even than predicted.

"The turnout of pro-salmon folks will surprise people," said Sam Mace of the Idaho and Washington Wildlife Federations. "I've actually been surprised by the response. To be quite honest, there has been a real fear out there to speak up. Slowly that is changing."

Mace won't be alone when she shows up today at the Pasco Doubletree Hotel. Hundreds of people - largely defenders of the dams - are expected for the critical hearing about how best to save Snake River salmon and steelhead.

Although other options besides dam breaching are on the table, environmental groups have organized a nationwide campaign saying dam removal is the only option that really gives fish a chance.

That effort has generated significant momentum against the dams, which were built in the 1960s and 1970s. For the last five years, the Army Corps of Engineers has been evaluating them for a recommendation to Congress later this year. Several Northwest politicians are adamantly opposed to dam removal - but other members will likely be influenced by the tenor and turnout at the series of public hearings being held around the Northwest this month and next.

"We're letting the box score speak for itself when it's all over," Baker said.

Tri-City officials are holding a press conference with farm and business leaders before the hearing, trying to make sure federal officials and the rest of the region can't ignore the fact that the Mid-Columbia relies on the dams for transporting farm goods by barge, generating electricity and recreation. No federal-level politicians are expected to show up, but several are sending staff members to submit testimony.

Sign-ups to speak start at noon, with an overview of Snake River fish issues at 1 p.m. Federal officials will answer questions until 3 p.m., when public comment starts. Speakers have three minutes each.

Another overview starts at 6:30 p.m., and a second public hearing starts at 7:30. Officials also are taking comments about their comprehensive fish recovery plan known as the All-H paper and the John Day drawdown recommendation.

Environmentalists dropped plans for their own press conference before the hearing, citing logistical problems. But they won't be silent. "I think it is important to show that there is a lot of unfounded fear about what dam removal would mean" for the Tri-Cities, Mace said.

Said Baker: "I do hope that ... we will have at least a civil hearing if not a rational debate."

Mike Lee
Breaching Advocates Head for Tri-Cities
Tri-City Herald, February 17, 2000

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