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Dams Run by Army Engineers Leak Oil

by Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - May 6, 2003

Agency snubs states

PORTLAND -- The rainbow-colored oil slick stretched from Bonneville Dam 200 feet down the Columbia River, but its origins in the turbines, pits and pumps of the dam remained a mystery.

Bonneville, it turns out, is joined by other decades-old U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers in spilling or leaking untold volumes of oil.

In some instances, it's but a trickle, but in one case roughly 1,000 gallons leaked.

The Bonneville leak was a year and a half ago. Oregon and Washington authorities have since issued the Corps of Engineers four violation notices for illegally spilling oil into the river at Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day dams.

Corps managers have taken some corrective action and plan to review oil containment at their dams across the Northwest.

But the corps has snubbed its neighbor states, telling them they have no authority over what goes on inside federal dams and guarding information about a dam's inner workings in the name of protection against terrorist plots.

State officials, tracking river compliance under the federal Clean Water Act as well as fish habitat quality, are left to file Freedom of Information Act requests -- much as any frustrated citizen would do.

"The corps is not required to follow state regulatory controls over the operation of generators, turbines, galleries, sumps and pumping operations within our federal facilities," Brig. Gen. David Fastabend, then the corps' Northwest Division engineer, wrote to the head of Washington's Department of Ecology on March 31.

Meanwhile, the dams go on leaking.

As a federal agency, the corps is immune from fines that might otherwise reach many thousands of dollars. But it must comply with federal Endangered Species Act protections for migrating salmon.

It's unclear how much oil already has ended up in the river system. The Corps of Engineers contends it has no obligation to report oil spills within its dams, yet it has operated ineffective oil disposal systems without permits for decades, state officials say.

The corps counters that it has reported all oil known to have reached the river. The 17 spills reported at Bonneville Dam since 1997 reflect a "pretty good record," spokesman Matt Rabe said.

Related Pages:
Oil-Leaking Dams Generate Concern by Michael Milstein, The Oregonian, 5/4/3

Associated Press
Dams Run by Army Engineers Leak Oil
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 6, 2003

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