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The beginnings of a flood?

Breach of Maine dam echoes in the Northwest

by Times-News & The Associated Press
Times-News - July 2, 1999

As church bells pealed Thursday, a torrent of water was unleashed through a manmade gap in the 162-year-old Edwards Dam in the nation's first government-ordered demolition of a dam in the name of conservation -- a move hailed by Idaho environmentalists who are pushing for the removal of dams on the lower Snake River.

But while some see Thursday's action as a precedent for other projects, particularly in the West, supporters of the Snake River dam system dispute this comparison.

the removal of the hydroelectric dam in Maine opens an upstream stretch of the Kennebec River to Atlantic salmon, striped bass, endangered shortnosed sturgeon and other fish for the first time since the 1830s.

"This has fixated the attention of river communities across the nation," said Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who watched from the river's edge with hundreds of others as silt-laden water rushed downstream.

Babbitt said he was told years ago that the project "was not going to happen in my lifetime. And, of course, here we are here today."

Gov. Angus King started the process by ringing a bell. More bells ringing from a church signaled a big backhoe to rip into a temporary dam.

Within seconds, a trickle, then a rush, of water flowed through a 60-foot gap that had already been cut in the 917-foot-wide Edwards Dam, made of timber, rock and concrete. It will take until NOvember before the demolition is complete.

The breaching sent ripples through the Pacific Northwest, which is embroiled in controversy over the proposed breaching of four federal dams on the lower Snake River to ease the passage for endangered Snake River salmon.

"This is a big day for river conservationists across the nation," Bill Sedivy of Idaho Rivers United said in a prepared statement. "Here in Idaho we hope the removal of Edwards Dam shows our political leaders that dam removal is viable when science and economics support the action."

Most scientists say the best chance for recovering endangered salmon is breaching the four Snake River dams, a move that economic studies show would save taxpayers money, Sedivy said.

"I think it's just one more precedent," salmon activist Reed Burkholder of Boise said.

If the community decided that taking out the dam was in the best interest of the economy, that restoring the fish in the river would kindle an economic resurgence, that is directly applicable to the Norhtwest and breaching lower Snake River dams, Burkholder said.

Recovering salmon would help make the Northwest more attractive and would attract new computer- and Internet-related business to the region, he said.

Scientists say taking out earthen portions of those dams would give dwindling salmon stocks their best chance of recovery.

But not everyone agrees.

Breaching the Edwards Dam should not be viewed as a precedent for the fate of the four Snake River dams, the Columbia River Alliance said in a news release.

"The Pacific Northwest has invested over $100 million to improve salmon survival at our dams while the owners of the Edwards Dam refused to provide any fish passage devices," said Bruce Lovelin, executive director of the alliance, which represents agricultural, navigation, electric utility and manufacturing interests.

U.S. Senator Larry Craig says there's no reason to think the Edwards breaching will prompt a wave of public activism across the nation to wash out dams in the Pacific Northwest.

Ice Harbor, Little Goose, Lower Granite and Lower Monumental dams on the Snake River in Washington generate an annual average of about 1,200 megawatts of electricity and have provided inland navigation to Lewiston since 1975. Two Snake River salmon species, which have to negotiate eight federal dams on the lower Columbia and Snake rivers, were placed on the endangered species list in the early 1990s.

Times-News & The Associated Press
The beginnings of a flood? Breach of Maine dam echoes in the Northwest
Times-News - July 2, 1999

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