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NE Oregon $26 Million Hatchery Project
Takes a Step Forward

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - October 15, 2004

Despite a fiscal wariness about large looming one-time and long-term costs, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council this week moved a proposed $26 million expansion of the Northeast Oregon Hatchery program closer to reality.

During its meeting in Missoula, Mont., the Council accepted "Step 2" submittals from the project sponsors and signaled that Step 3 activities -- which will culminate with final facility designs -- could proceed subject to conditions identified by NPCC staff. One of those conditions is that an independent value analysis be conducted to assure that the sponsors are on the right track to optimize costs and performance. The Council authorized the expenditure of up to $40,000 for the analysis.

The proposal, which has been continually refined since 2000 at the request of the Council, its Independent Scientific Review Panel and others, aims to boost production of Imnaha and Grande Ronde river spring chinook stock for release into the streams. The spring chinook populations are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The NEOH's current facilities are capable of producing only about 75 percent of their ESA-permitted capacity.

The Council requires that new artificial production projects that are trying to win Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife program funding pass through its three-step review process -- from feasibility analysis to preliminary design to final design. Planning for the project since 1988 has already absorbed $7.2 million. The recent Step 2 submissions included preliminary designs and reports, a final Environmental Impact State necessary to satisfy National Environmental Policy Act requirements, and cost estimates for construction, operation and maintenance and monitoring and evaluation.

The project aims to modify the Lookingglass hatchery and the Imnaha satellite facility and build new Lostine facilities (a hatchery and adult trap). The Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are the co-managers of the current preservation/conservation and restoration programs for the spring chinook stocks. The current and projected future production is intended to supplement wild Lostine, Upper Grande Ronde, Catherine Creek, Imnaha and Lookingglass stocks.

The completed project would allow full implementation of a previously approved conservation and restoration program. The tribe's Becky Ashe said the new and/or improved facilities would allow a 25 percent production increase -- about 350,000 juvenile spring chinook.

The cost of the final design to be developed during Step 3 is estimated to be $1.1 million in fiscal year 2005. Additionally land and easement acquisition is estimated to be $500,000 while Nez Perce ($389,000) and ODFW ($69,000) planning are estimated be $458,000 over the next three years.

When the planning is complete, the Council would decide whether or not to go ahead with the project. Estimated construction costs are $16.3 million. If the project goes ahead, the program would likely be obligated to pay $676,154 annually in operations and maintenance costs and $2.4 million each year to monitor and evaluate the success of the program, which sponsors say incorporates the latest science and artificial production reforms.

"This program is the outcome of those better ideas," the Nez Perce Tribe's Dave Johnson told the Council. He spoke of hatchery reform initiatives past and ongoing that have been launched by the Council, NOAA Fisheries and others. Supplementation aims to boost depleted stocks by outplanting hatchery-reared juvenile salmon that are produced from native stocks. On their return as adults the supplemented fish would spawn in the wild. Hatchery operations and facilities are designed to more closely mimic the natural environment.

The NEOH expansion is "consistent with the Council, the ISRP and NOAA on how to raise listed fish," Johnson said. "This program is the product of the Council asking, as well as NOAA, for a better way of dealing with listed salmon."

Washington Councilor Tom Karier urged careful scrutiny of the costs between now and the time when the Council must say yea or nay to construction. He suggested that the Council's Independent Economic Advisory Board review the project and judge its cost effectiveness as compared to other hatcheries.

Likewise, the project's M&E program represents a heavy future burden on the fish and wildlife program. Karier noted that a strong Independent Scientific Review Panel endorsement of the M&E plan came with a caution about high costs.

"It's about a $3 million long-term commitment," Karier said of the combined O&M and M&E costs. The NPCC staff recommendation endorsed Wednesday by the Council says that, given the significant annual costs, additional understanding is needed regarding M&E priorities, for the NEOH project and other projects in the region. It suggested a prioritization of the plan's tasks and objectives.

"This approach is not a criticism of the sponsor's current proposal, but is based on the allocation of regional resources for monitoring requirements in response to the considerable review and guidance the project has received," according to a memo from the Council staff's Mark Fritsch.

The M&E data across the region is important to answer uncertainties about the long-term success of supplementation in restoring self-sustaining populations and about the risks hatchery fish might pose to wild populations.

"The level of cost and effort is high, but the ISAB/ISRP consider the Yakima, ISS (Supplementation Studies on Idaho Rivers) and this project as core projects that are attempting to evaluate supplementation in the Columbia River Basin," according to the staff memo.

Oregon Councilor Melinda Eden noted the dilemma faced by policy makers.

"We can find some of those answers by spending more on M&E," she said. But the proposed NEOH program and its costs, $2.4 million per year, must be examined in relation to existing M&E programs and the information they provide.

"That's a whole lot to swallow unexamined," she said of the relative benefit the new M&E program will provide in answering supplementation uncertainties. It was noted by Karier that the NEOH M&E plan relies on elements of some 17 other ongoing projects. Their total cost for M&E and other functions, is $6 million, Fritsch said.

NOAA Fisheries is on board with the project. Assistant regional administrator Rob Walton told the Council that his agency completed the ES-required biological opinion on the proposed construction Oct. 8.

"We do support going to final on this," said Walton, who called the project "an important example of hatchery reform."

Barry Espenson
NE Oregon $26 Million Hatchery Project Takes a Step Forward
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 15, 2004

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