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Hearings Sentiment Leans to Breaching

by Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, March 23, 2000

The Corps of Engineers says that absent any clear scientific finding,
public opinon may influence its recommendation

Most people who spoke at 15 hearings throughout the Northwest and Alaska on the subject of breaching federal dams expressed support for the idea, the regional commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday.

And that collective sentiment, he said, could influence the corps' final recommendation to Congress if it finds science does not clearly indicate whether hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River should be breached to help endangered salmon.

"If there is discretion between one thing or another, the receptivity of the population is going to be a component in our decision," said Brig. Gen. Carl Strock, the Portland-based commander of the corps' Northwest Division.

Still, Strock said that advocates of breaching might have been better organized, and that those advocating change might be more likely to step forward than supporters of the status quo. "The number of people who stepped up before a microphone may not truly represent the feelings of the region," Strock said.

The outcome of the hearings, held in four Northwest states and attended by several thousand people, was a solid victory for conservation and fishing groups, as well as tribes and others who support a proposal to breach Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams in Eastern Washington.

Those groups, led by the Seattle-based Save Our Wild Salmon, waged an all-out campaign to pack the meetings with supporters of breaching.

"It's clear to us that the region has spoken," said Chris Zimmer, a spokesman for Save Our Wild Salmon. "It's now up to political leaders to follow the will of the people."

The corps has not completed its analysis of roughly 2,000 comments received at the hearings.

Nicole Cordan, policy director for Save Our Wild Salmon, said those who spoke favored breaching by a ratio of about 3-to-1.

Opponents of breaching agree that they were outnumbered. They say that should not influence federal deliberations.

"They had more money, more time to spend organizing," said Doug Riggs of the Labor Coalition for Responsible River Use, a Portland group that represents 14 labor unions opposed to breaching the dams.

"They did a better job in getting the folks out than we did," said Bruce Lovelin, executive director of the Portland-based Columbia River Alliance, which represents ports and other industrial users of the Columbia and Snake rivers. "But there is no regional consensus on dam breaching."

The dams allow barge transportation by making the lower Snake slack and deep. They generate low-cost electric power. And one of them, Ice Harbor near Pasco, Wash., is used to irrigate surrounding farmland. Riggs said breaching opponents think there are ways to save salmon while leaving the dams in place.

Such measures could include using barges to carry young salmon past dams, continuing to invest in improvements to dams that make them less dangerous to salmon and restoring streams where salmon spawn.

Only in Pasco were opponents of breaching in the majority. They were outnumbered at other hearings in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska. Even near Lewiston, Idaho, an inland port made possible by the dams, about the same number of supporters as opponents spoke at the hearing.

Strock said he was surprised by the number of breaching supporters who spoke at the Lewiston-area hearing, held in neighboring Clarkston, Wash.

"I would have expected at some of the places we went, places like Lewiston and Clarkston, the pro-breaching folks would have been drowned out by those that wanted their dams to stay," Strock said.

"If the only input you had was what you heard in those hearings, you would come away with the impression that breaching was more acceptable to the region than perhaps we had thought."

The corps will accept public comments until March 31. Information is available on the World Wide Web at Comments may be e-mailed to or faxed to 509-527-7832.

Jonathan Brinckman
Hearings Sentiment Leans to Breaching
The Oregonian, March 23, 2000

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