Cowlitz PUD Joins Spat
by Courtney Sherwood
Cowlitz PUD is wading into the murky world of salmon politics, its leaders speaking out this week against fish restoration policies that they say just aren't worth the cost.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Jim Redden ordered the operators of four Snake and Columbia river dams to spill water to help flush endangered young salmon to the Pacific Ocean.
Spilling water bypasses electricity-producing hydroelectric turbines and could force Northwest utilities to spend an extra $75 million to replace the lost power.
Redden's decision is prompting Cowlitz PUD to take a more public stand on salmon restoration, PUD spokesman Dave Andrew said Tuesday.
"We've sat back for too long without aggressively sharing information with our customers," Andrew said.
On Sunday, the PUD launched an aggressive bid to convince customers that current salmon policies aren't cutting it. In a reader commentary in The Daily News, PUD commissioner John Searing wrote that too much money is being spent on regional fish programs that do not work.
The same day, the PUD ran an ad in the paper stating that the spill "hurts salmon and wastes your money."
"As a country, we are on the road to spending $650 million to $750 million giving Bonneville Power Administration money for fish recovery," PUD commissioner Buz Ketcham said in an interview Tuesday. "This is a significant contributor to the long-term escalation of rates."
Salmon recovery costs are passed on to Northwest utilities through BPA's wholesale power rates. About 15 cents of every $1 on PUD customers' bills goes toward paying for salmon recovery, and the utility sent BPA $30 million for salmon recovery in 2004, according to PUD figures.
"It probably wouldn't be as objectionable if we thought it would be doing any good," PUD commissioner Ned Piper said.
"Judge Redden's decision has brought a lot of utilities together," Piper added. "We don't want to completely do away with salmon restoration funding, but to add millions to the cost doesn't make sense."
So far, about a dozen people have called or e-mailed the PUD in response to its new public campaign regarding salmon restoration, commissioners said following their board meeting on Tuesday.
One in three responses criticized the utility's stance, and the rest were largely supportive, said PUD general manager Brian Skeahan.
Ruth Deery of Longview, a founding member the Willapa Hills Audubon Society, was among the PUD's critics.
"This is not a simple issue," Deery told the PUD commissioners Tuesday, criticizing the board for using ratepayer money to present only one side of the issue.
"We need more information out there," Deery said.
Many environmental groups disagree with the PUD, saying the spill could make a big difference, though some do agree that salmon recovery funds have not been spent well overall.
"We can have both clean, affordable energy and abundant, wild salmon," Northwest Energy Coalition spokeswoman Sara Patton said in a written response to Redden's ruling.
"These four out-dated dams produce relatively little electricity, and the power they do produce can be easily replaced," Patton said.
PUD commissioners disagree, saying that Redden's decision to force spill will be costly for the region, driving down energy supplies and forcing up the cost of power.
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