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Presidential Hopefuls Take on Dam Issue

by Mike Lee
Tri-City Herald, February 26, 2000

Texas Gov. George W. Bush made things real simple for Washington voters on Friday.

Elect him president, and the four Lower Snake River dams "will stay right where they are, providing low-cost power and jobs for you, your family, your community and the entire Northwest," the Republican presidential candidate said in a new radio ad.

Franklin County farmer Walt LePage was driving home when he heard the radio spot. He said it made him feel good about national politics for the first time in a long time.

"It made me kind of come to life again," said the Basin grower. "That was the first good news I've heard since Clinton got in (office)."

Washington voters likely will hear a lot more in the next few days about where White House contenders stand on dam breaching, an issue that has become a deciding factor for some residents.

Bush, facing Arizona Sen. John McCain in Washington state's Tuesday presidential primary, took a big step into the hearts of Mid-Columbians who are fighting to keep the dams between Pasco and Lewiston.

The dams, while providing power, recreation and navigation, are on the hook as federal agencies try to reverse declines in salmon and steelhead stocks.

"Breaching the dams would be a big mistake," Bush said. "The economy and jobs of much of the Northwest depend on the dams that generate this power."

Earlier in the week, McCain was widely quoted as saying dam breaching should continue to be an option for fish recovery.

And McCain's reported description of Northwest salmon recovery as "pork barrel politics" drew sharp attacks from Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash.

"I couldn't disagree with him more," Gorton said. "And I will continue to fight him on it.

"I'm also disappointed that Sen. McCain doesn't share my views on dam removal," said Gorton, a staunch dam defender. "I firmly believe that the people of Washington state, not Washington, D.C., should decide the fate of our Snake River dams. He sides with Al Gore on this."

Vice President Gore defended the administration's record on trying to restore salmon runs in the Northwest. But the vice president refused to rule out the possibility of breaching four dams on the lower Snake River to restore threatened and endangered salmon populations in the Columbia Basin.

Asked whether he would take anything off the table, including dam breaching, as federal agencies develop a comprehensive salmon policy, Gore said, "Nope. You need to seek accurate scientific and economic data before addressing such a divisive issue."

Gore's challenger, former Sen. Bill Bradley, and Democratic Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber have criticized the administration for acting so slowly in developing a plan for saving the runs. Kitzhaber last week became the first political leader in the region to call for breaching the dams. Breaching is vehemently opposed by river user groups ranging from irrigators to power producers to farmers but has strong support from environmentalists.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is expected to announce this spring a plan for restoring the salmon runs, and Gore said the methodical process was working.

"The federal agencies are working closely with stakeholders to build a consensus," Gore said. "We want to make sure we completely assess the situation."

"Buster," an environmentalist in a colorful, 6-foot-tall sockeye salmon costume, aims to find out more about Gore's position on dams todayat a primary chili feast in Seattle.

Gore and Bradley are expected to attend the event. Save Our Wild Salmon, one of the driving forces behind the push for dam breaching, said Gore has been "silent on the issue," and the organization is sending Buster to find out.

Bradley spoke by phone Friday afternoon with the Herald editorial board and said Northwest states should be allowed to try to arrive at a consensus on the dams. He emphasized, however, the need to meet the Endangered Species Act and tribal treaties.

"Clearly, breaching the dams is one of the things that should be considered," Bradley said. "But there may be others. ... I am not prejudging."

Bradley seemed eager to have the chance to make a decision on the dams, though a proposal for removal would have to go through Congress first.

"I would make a decision," he said. "And I would try to be respectful (of) the states."

Mike Lee
Presidential Hopefuls Take on Dam Issue
Tri-City Herald, February 26, 2000

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