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Commentaries and editorials

Scoping Meetings on Basin Salmon/Steelhead EIS End;
Next Step Developing Alternatives for Evaluation

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, December 16, 2016

Commodity Tonnage traveling through the Columbia/Snake River 1990 - 2010.  Notice that much of the tonnage comes on barge at Tri-City's and downstream, then passing through McNary lock. Federal agencies operating Columbia/Snake river dams and reservoirs on Thursday in Astoria completed the last of their sixteen regional “scoping” meetings which solicited public views regarding a court-ordered environmental impact statement for salmon and steelhead.

But the agencies will continue to take comment until January 17 on what the public thinks should be analyzed in the upcoming EIS.

To this point in the scoping process, the agencies have received 40,000 to 50,000 public comments and more than 2,000 people have attended the meetings. In addition to the 16 scoping meetings, the agencies have also met some 20 times with Tribal governments.

The 5-year long process under the National Environmental Policy Act to produce an EIS was put into motion by U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Simon this May when he remanded the latest –2014 – NOAA Fisheries' biological opinion governing river operations to protect salmon and steelhead throughout the Columbia River basin.

Simon, according to David Kennedy, manager of the Bonneville Power Administration's compliance division, gave the operating agencies five years to complete a NEPA process, although the judge expects a new BiOp from the operating agencies and NOAA in 2018, and potentially another BiOp when the NEPA process is complete in 2021.

In his remand, Simon placed back on the table breaching of the four lower Snake River dams and that has been the focus of many comments received at each of the scoping meetings, electronically through the NEPA website or by mail.

“The federal Columbia River power system remains a system that 'cries out' for a new approach and for new thinking if wild Pacific salmon and steelhead, which have been in these waters since well before the arrival of homo sapiens, are to have any reasonable chance of surviving their encounter with modern man,” Simon wrote in his May ruling. “Perhaps following the processes that Congress has established both in the National Environmental Policy Act and in the Endangered Species Act finally may illuminate a path that will bring these endangered and threatened species out of peril.”

Kennedy, along with Rebecca Weiss of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, briefed the Northwest Power and Conservation Council at its meeting in Portland this week (December 13 and 14). He called the schedule the agencies have set, along with Judge Simon, “fast and aggressive.”

Defending the agencies' format choice to hold open houses for the 16 scoping meetings after being asked by Montana Council member Jennifer Anders about a complaint from environmental organizations, Kennedy said there was just too much information to convey and that would have meant two to three hour presentations that nobody would have wanted. Under NEPA, he said, there are a number of formats allowed for the scoping process.

“It's a large, complicated system and so there was a lot to explain,” he said. The format used information boards and at least one subject matter expert at each station for “one on one” conversations.

“Besides, there will be other comment periods. We certainly don't intend to go dark,” he said. “The process is meant to be transparent.”

Some 36 environmental organizations demanded in a November 11 letter that the format used by the agencies be redesigned immediately to allow oral comment and to “revise incomplete and misleading information presented at the meetings, schedule additional meetings in important stakeholder communities in northern California and Alaska, and extend the public comment period by at least 60 days. The full letter is at earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/files/NEPA%20Scoping%20Failure%20Ltr%20FINAL.pdf

Kennedy said the agencies are contemplating extending the comment period.

The three agencies, which also includes the Bureau of Reclamation, will be evaluating over the five year period alternatives and tradeoffs, including climate change and dam breaching and effects on resources, such as species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, cultural resources and economics.

A status report on the NEPA process from the agencies is due to the Court October 30, 2017 and a status conference is set one month later, November 30. The draft EIS is to be completed and ready for public review in March 2020, with the final EIS in March 2021, followed closely by a record of decision.

So far, Kennedy said, public comment has proposed the agencies do another study, while others have said don't do more studies, and still others called on the studies to use the best available science.

Others called for removing the lower Snake River dams. Some said remove the dams so that Orcas will not starve. Still others oppose removing the dams to preserve irrigation, navigation and recreation, and to protect against flood risk.

Some, concerned about the economic tradeoffs of the current BiOp, have called on the operating agencies to complete an economic analysis of proposed changes to operations and structural configurations at dams, and to determine the benefits and impacts of those change.

The agencies are just at step two of a long 10-step $40 million process that began in September with a letter of intent.

The step-by-step process is scoping, developing alternatives for evaluation, analysis of the alternatives, a draft EIS (2020), public comment, review and synthesis of the draft EIS, preparing a final EIS with preferred alternative, a final EIS and an ROD (2021).

That next step – developing alternatives for evaluation – begins with the agencies processing the information gathered during the scoping process, developing alternatives for the EIS assessments and the metrics by which they will be evaluated.

More information about the “Columbia River System Operations EIS” is at www.crso.info. Questions, but not comments, can be done by phone to 1-800-290-5033. Send comments to comment@crso.info, or mail to Army Corps of Engineers, Attn: CRSO EIS, P.O. Box 2870, Portland, Oregon 97208-2870. The agencies remind commenters to remember that their entire comment, including name, address and email will become a part of the public record.

Related Pages:
Hundreds Turn Out for Lewiston Scoping Meeting of Draft EIS for Snake River Dams by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 11/18/16
Irrigators Petition Trump Transition Team For 'God Squad' Intervention In Salmon BiOp Remand by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 12/2/16

Related Sites:
Agencies Seek Public 'Scoping' Comments for EIS Related to New Basin Salmon/Steelhead Recovery Plan by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 10/7/16
Federal Court Again Rejects Columbia Basin Salmon/Steelhead Recovery Plan; Orders New BiOp By 2018 by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 5/6/16


Staff
Scoping Meetings on Basin Salmon/Steelhead EIS End; Next Step Developing Alternatives for Evaluation
Columbia Basin Bulletin, December 16, 2016

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