Lower Snake River Draft EIS PostponedRobinson Shaw, Environmental News Network - September 14, 1999
The long awaited and controversial draft environmental impact statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the four lower Snake River dams has been postponed. Those awaiting the corps' suggestions on the fate of the dwindling Northwest salmon population will have to wait until Dec. 17.
In a related announcement, the National Marine Fisheries Service said it will delay its biological opinion on how the federal Columbia River power system should be operated to restore endangered fish runs.
The original release date for the Lower Snake River Juvenile Salmon Migration Feasibility Study and EIS was set for October, but the corps said it needs more time to improve the report.
"The corps is asking the public to stay tuned. We do not have a preferred alternative selected," said Greg Graham, corps project manager for the study. "We have gathered up a tremendous amount of data over the past five years, working with the region and other federal agencies. All this information needs to be considered in developing a recommendation on improving salmon survival through the four lower Snake River dams."
"We don't think too highly of it, but we do hope that they will take the opportunity of a little bit more time to make the DEIS better. We had significant concerns about some of the information that they were incorporating in it because some of the information they were using was very preliminary and draft," said Justin Hayes, director for public policy for American Rivers.
"We hope the delay will be a positive step, but at the same time we are very much hoping and insisting they come out with a decision as soon as they are capable of making a good and informed and defensible decision," said Hayes.
The corps will face no penalties for the postponement and did not have to ask permission of any other federal agency to delay releasing the report.
"We're the action agency so we're the ones responsible to do the EIS and feasibility study and put it out publicly. So it's our call to decide the balance of having a good report and meeting some previously set schedule," said Witt Anderson, fishery program manager for the corps' Northwest division.
According to Graham, the corps still needs to address the comments of other federal agencies; resolve issues brought up by the Northwest Power Planning Council's Independent Economic Analysis Board and others; include additional biological analyses from NMFS and from the Plan for Analyzing and Testing Hypothesis.
Other federal agencies involved have also pushed back the dates they will deliver other products, as well, according to Danny Consenstein, NMFS representative to the Columbia River Basin Forum. The delay is partly due to the change in completion date for the corps study. He said NMFS is now aiming to completewhat has been called its '99 Decision - "a form of BiOp (biological opinion) for the federal hydro system", he said. That completion is set for the spring of 2000, just in time for the migration of juvenile salmon or smolts down the river through the dams.
The NMFS needs information to determine the biological opinion from the corps' EIS, which describes and recommends the alternatives being evaluated for the four lower Snake River dams (Lower Monumental, Lower Granite, Little Goose and Ice Harbor), and now won't be available for review until the end of the year, according to Consenstein.
The public will have at least 90 days to comment on the corps' draft EIS before its final release some time in 2000, said Graham. The corps' public process will include workshops and public hearings. The federal agencies are designing a public process with at least a 60-day comment period for the other products, said Consenstein. He predicts that will begin in January 2000.
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