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Snake dams supporters prevailing, Gorton says

by Les Blumenthal,
Herald Washington, D.C. bureau Tri-City Herald, January(?) 1999

Opponents of a proposal to breach four lower Snake River dams hold the advantage at the moment, Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., said Wednesday. Support for breaching the dams is coming from "outside" groups that aren't concerned about the economic future of the region, he added. "I believe for the first time we hold the upper hand at the beginning and we need to consolidate our position," said Gorton, who has led the opposition to breaching the dams in Congress. "We can win the struggle against removing dams."

Gorton also told a group representing the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association he intends to once again tie funding for purchase and removal of two smaller dams on the Olympic peninsula's Elwha River to a requirement that Congress must approve breaching or removing any dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. "I was surprised when the deal was turned down last year," said Gorton, referring to the Clinton administration's opposition to his proposal. The administration has long supported removing the dams on the Elwha River to restore salmon runs but believes there shouldn't be a link to a prohibition on breaching other dams. Top administration officials also have said repeatedly it would take congressional approval before removing federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, but they have hedged when asked about such nonfederal dams as those owned by public utility districts upstream from the Tri-Cities.

Removing dams to help restore dwindling runs on the Columbia and Snake rivers was the "position of so many of these outside groups," Gorton said. "Public policy should not be designed for a single goal." Environmentalists took exception to Gorton's comments. "I think it would come as a shock and surprise to sport, commercial and tribal fishermen that Senator Gorton considers them outside groups," said Jim Baker, who coordinates salmon issues for the Sierra Club and lives in Pullman.

While it may be possible to lessen some of the economic impacts from breaching dams, Baker said, there may be no other way to keep the salmon runs from going extinct. "Senator Gorton may feel he has the upper hand, but the fact is you can't mitigate for salmon extinction, but you can mitigate economic impacts so the Northwest can continue to have salmon and a stgrong economy into the 21st century," he said. "Salmon extinction, which the senator seems to support, would result in the ultimate lose-lose with no salmon, no fishing and no cheap hydropower."

Gorton's remarks came as the 40 or so people representing the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association and members of other groups fanned out across Captiol Hill this week asking lawmakers to oppose proposals to breach the four Lower Snake River dams.

"I'm a dry-land wheat farmer and I raise 100,000 bushels a year," said Skip Mead of Dayton. "I could lose $35,000 to $60,000 a year if those dams are removed." Mead and other growers say removing the dams would mean they could no longer ship their wheat downriver on barges and would face $50 million to $60 million a year in additional transportation costs as they turned to rail cars and trucks. "You can't pass those costs on to a buyer," said Jack DeWitt of Waitsburg. "You can lose a sale based on just pennies a ton."

Jonathan Schlueter, executive vice president of the Pacific Northwest Grain and Feed Association, said in addition to increased transportation costs for farmers, the act of removing the dams could cost up to $1.2 billion. The loss of electricity resulting from their removal would cost ratepayers about $150 million a year, resulting in an increase of between $3 and $5 a month on the average residential utility bill.

"There is an economic cloud of uncertainty not just over agriculture, but over the entire business climate of the Northwest," Schlueter said. "Advocates of dam breaching are very determined. We are not a group averse to paying our share. Maybe dam breaching is the best solution for recovery (of salmon), but we think there are others."

Copyright 1999 Tri-City Herald. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

Les Blumenthal - Herald Washington, D.C., bureau
Snake dams supporters prevailing, Gorton says
Tri-City Herald - January(?) 1999

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