Oregon Judge Again Extends
by Joseph Frazier, Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. -- U.S. District Judge James Redden has postponed for a second time a deadline for a plan that meets his standards for balancing operations of Columbia Basin dams with threatened or endangered fish runs.
At a December status hearing Redden moved the deadline for a third biological opinion from March 1 to March 18 but threatened unspecified consequences "that could be harsh" if he rejects it. On Tuesday he extended it to May 5, said Brian Gorman, spokesman for NOAA Fisheries in Seattle.
Redden has thrown out two previous opinions as inadequate and wrote in December that a draft of a third effort looks little better.
Gorman said the government sought the newest extension because of the volume of comments received after the release of the last draft opinion.
"The judge granted our request," he said Thursday. "We are pleased, it gives us more time to produce a final biological opinion."
NOAA is charged with writing the opinions with input and advice from the Bonneville Power Administration, which wholesales energy from the dams, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates them, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
In June, Redden told the BPA that salmon conservation comes before regional power needs after learning that the BPA miscalculated energy demand, thus risking killing protected salmon in April.
"Apparently, BPA's sales commitments to customers always trump its obligation to protect" Endangered Species Act-listed species, Redden wrote at the time. "This was a marketing error and ESA-listed fish paid the price. This, the law does not permit."
Redden has suggested he may take over the task of balancing salmon protection and power generation if a third effort falls short of his standards.
He rejected the last biological opinion in 2004 and in 2005 ordered talks among the tribes, federal government and states to find something they - and he - could support.
Since then, the conflicting demands on the river such as power, fish, shipping and irrigation have been worked out by the parties on a year-to-year basis.
Disagreements have arisen over whether the latest draft used the best available science as required by law.
Government lawyers said in December that it did but Todd True, an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation, said it was "not even close" and if the final opinion wasn't substantially changed from the draft "litigation seems at least likely."
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