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Commentaries and editorials

Kitzhaber Says Fish Plan Lacks
New Solutions, Budget

by Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, July 29, 2000

The governor praises the overall idea but says the proposals rely
on temporary fixes that do nothing to improve river quality

Gov. John Kitzhaber sharply criticized federal officials Friday for failing to release cost estimates on a sweeping plan to save Columbia River Basin salmon without breaching dams.

"Any credible recovery plan must have a detailed budget through which the administration and Congress can demonstrate their commitment to saving salmon," he said.

Kitzhaber has endorsed breaching the four federal dams on the Lower Snake River, an action the White House plan seeks to avoid. The governor commended the administration for the overall plan, and he did not criticize federal officials for recommending against breaching now.

Instead, he said, the plan released Thursday appears to rely too heavily on barging young salmon around dams and making other technological fixes, rather than improving the Columbia and Snake rivers to make them better for salmon.

"If the administration does not intend to consider dam breaching at this time, it must demonstrate a commitment to other meaningful modifications to the hydropower system that will improve in-river conditions," he said.

Federal officials did not disclose costs when they unveiled the long-awaited plan in Portland. When pressed, George Frampton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said paying for the plan would require Congress to appropriate "several hundred million" additional dollars for Columbia Basin salmon recovery.

"They haven't done the math, and I think that's a major failing," said Eric Bloch, Kitzhaber's top Columbia salmon aide and a member of the Northwest Power Planning Council.

Recovery efforts cost more than $400 million a year, most of which the Bonneville Power Administration collects from electric ratepayers.

Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said Friday that final costs have yet to be calculated because the recovery plan is still a draft. "We won't know until those documents are in final form what kind of money we'll need to carry out the commitments we've made. Our obligation is to come up with the best plan we can."

Tribes and conservationists blasted the plan Thursday because it did not recommend breaching immediately. Instead, it calls for improving streams salmon use for spawning, reforming hatchery operations so they no longer threaten wild fish, freezing sport and commercial harvest levels, and releasing more water into rivers and streams from storage reservoirs.

The success of such efforts will be monitored yearly, along with the number of fish that return to spawn in Northwest waterways. Other measures, perhaps including dam breaching, could be recommended if those efforts fail to produce results.

Frampton strongly defended the plan, saying it makes sense because Congress opposes breaching dams. Breaching Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams by removing their earthen portions so the river could flow freely would take six to eight years and would cost $900 million, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated.

But the federal plan would help salmon immediately, Frampton said.

Gorman said administration officials were disappointed that critics focused on breaching. "I am appalled that the tribes and environmentalists are riding this hobby horse of dam breaching, when they know perfectly that the best use of resources, money and willpower is on things that immediately benefit fish, like habitat restoration and hatchery reform."

Doug Arndt, manager of the corps' Northwest salmon office, said the White House plan would require more money than Congress was planning to approve for the agency. He expects the corps and other federal agencies to seek additional money early next year.

The corps already had planned to undertake many of the improvements to dams outlined in the plan, he said. But two other measures were unexpected:

Jonathan Brinckman
Kitzhaber Says Fish Plan Lacks New Solutions, Budget
The Oregonian, July 29, 2000

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