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Commentaries and editorials

To Breach Or Not To Breach
the Snake River Dams?

by Joel Mills
Lewiston Tribune, February 8, 2022

Lewiston Council hears proposal for retaining dams;
city hasn't officially taken a position

In this 2013 aerial file photo, the Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River is seen near Pasco, Wash. (Bob Brawdy / Associated Press) Several Lewiston city councilors got behind a proposed resolution in favor of retaining the four lower Snake River dams after a presentation Monday from members of Citizens for Preservation of Fish and Dams, but one councilor said he wants a similar presentation from the other side before he casts a vote.

Marvin Dugger, Dick Sherwin and Dan Caldwell from the dam preservation group offered their take in opposition to Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson's $33 billion proposal to breach the dams to improve fish habitat. Several other area governmental entities have gone on the record in opposition to the plan, including Nez Perce County. And several city of Lewiston officials, like those in the Community Development Department, have decried the plan's effects on a community that has been built around the levee system and slackwater that came with the dams in the early 1970s.

But the Lewiston City Council itself hasn't taken an official position. The group that presented at Monday's work session gave the council a draft resolution for its members to consider, and councilors like Hannah Liedkie, Kathy Schroeder and Luke Blount said they would support some version of it. Councilor Rick Tousley pointed out that those who favor Simpson's plan haven't been afforded the same opportunity as the group that presented Monday, and asked if that could be arranged.

During the presentation, Dugger argued that with environmental groups forcing the closure of fossil fuel power plants, the hydropower generated by the dams will be even more crucial for maintaining future energy supplies.

"If we lose our dams, it's really going to be serious," Dugger said, pointing to power grid failures in places like Texas and Oregon as a warning. "This could happen, and you need to take a stand as the leaders of our community."

Sherwin shared charts showing that numbers of steelhead and spring chinook have increased during certain periods, despite the presence of the dams. And Caldwell cited his experience working with barging at the dams to illustrate the importance of using the river to transport commodities.

With a consensus of councilors agreeing to support a resolution in some form, city staff can now work on final language to bring back to a future meeting. Councilors didn't set a specific date for a vote on a resolution, however.

In other business:

City Attorney Jana Gomez updated the council on the progress of a subcommittee working on revisions to the city's code regarding administration that are now necessary because of the change to a strong mayor form of government.

One of the big questions will be whether to retain the current system of electing the council, where members are elected by all city voters for at-large seats. Councilors could alternatively be assigned seats and candidates would sign up to run for a specific seat; or by geographic districts, with voters and candidates for each seat restricted to residents of six geographic districts.

Most expressed support for keeping the current system. Councilor Jim Kleeburg pointed out that if districts were employed, problems could arise if no one in the district wants to run. Schroeder and Tousley agreed, and Blount said he, too, was leaning in that direction. But Blount also said he would like to hear from voters on the issue, as did Liedkie and Councilor Kassee Forsmann.

Liedkie asked that the subcommittee discuss ways to engage the public at its next meeting.

Councilors also discussed the possibility of selling the property across from City Hall to Nez Perce County for the county's proposed auto and vehicle license office. The office is a relatively new addition to the county's plan to build a new courthouse across 12th Street.

Mayor Dan Johnson and several councilors said they want to help the county with the project. But Johnson and some others said parking concerns need to be addressed since the land could be used for city parking. Employees and visitors at City Hall currently use a portion of the parking lot to the south that is owned by the state of Idaho. The city also owns a small parking lot to the east of City Hall.

County officials have recently accelerated their efforts to finalize design of the courthouse and get financing in place because of pending legislation that would require voter approval for the certificates of participation they want to use to pay for construction.

Joel Mills
To Breach Or Not To Breach the Snake River Dams?
Lewiston Tribune, February 8, 2022

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