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Feds get More Time to Form Dam Strategy

by Michael Milstein
The Oregonian, June 21, 2007

A U.S. judge Wednesday gave the federal government more time to find a legal way to operate Columbia River hydroelectric dams that kill protected salmon, but warned of "very serious" consequences if the government doesn't get it right.

U.S. District Judge James Redden has already thrown out two federal operating strategies for the dams because they didn't meet the mandates of the Endangered Species Act. He said he will not tolerate another failure.

"I'm going to be very picky because I want a bi-op that works," he said during a hearing Wednesday, using shorthand for biological opinion, the federal document that sets out the government's strategy. "This is a very, very, very, very important document."

He said the government must finish its biological opinion by Oct. 31.

If Redden were to find the government's efforts inadequate, he could order major changes in dam operations to benefit fish. That could cut back the hydroelectric power they provide, possibly driving up power rates in the region.

At Wednesday's hearing, federal attorneys struggled to convince him that U.S. agencies are finally on the right track.

They said agencies have made elaborate improvements in dam structures and operations to help fish make it past without injury. They argued salmon can now be helped most by restoring habitat and controlling predators such as sea lions and terns.

"This is not the status quo," said federal attorney Robert Gulley.

But attorneys from environmental groups and Native American tribes said they are skeptical that the government's strategy does much more than the faulty earlier ones.

Todd True, an Earthjustice attorney representing environmental groups, said the government is concentrating on how many salmon make it past dams, when the bigger question is how many return from the ocean to spawn and sustain the species.

"What we're getting here is a focus on a little piece of the picture that sounds good," he said. "The rest of the picture may not be so good."

Michael Milstein
Feds get More Time to Form Dam Strategy
The Oregonian, June 21, 2007

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