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Not Keeping Score at Dam Hearings, Corps Says

by John Hughes, Associated Press
Spokesman Review, March 29, 2000

Nethercutt worried that decision will hinge on public testimony

Strock, the Portland-based commander of the corps' northwest division, said most people who spoke at regional hearings support the idea of breaching federal dams to save salmon.

But he told Nethercutt that corps officials will base their decision on scientific, economic and social factors -- not head counts at public meetings.

"We do not keep score," Strock said.

Earlier this month, corps officials completed a series of 15 public hearings in the Pacific Northwest to gather comment on a draft proposal to help revive Snake River salmon in southeastern Washington state.

The plan spells out four options for the Ice Harbor, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Lower Granite dams: leave them alone, breach them, modify the dams to help fish, or increase barging and trucking of fish around the dams.

Environmental activists packed many of the hearings and called for breaching the dams -- removing earthen portion of the structures and allowing water to flow past the concrete remainder.

Dam opponents outnumbered dam defenders by an average 3-to-1 ratio at the hearings, environmentalists say.

But Nethercutt told reporters here the hearings were "a dog and pony show" and that local residents were not given precedence over environmentalists bused in from outside the region.

"The methodology was flawed and I don't think they controlled the hearings very well," he said.

Scott Faber of the environmental group American Rivers in Washington, D.C. -- noting the corps is supposed to consider scientific, economic and social factors -- said the hearings were a good way to measure social factors.

"The opponents of dam removal are shaken by the popular outpouring of support for dam removal," Faber said.

But Doug Arndt, a corps spokesman in Portland, said the purpose of the hearings was to gather new data, not to measure popular opinion.

The corps is supposed to announce a final recommendation on the dams in late fall. Congress must approve any dam breachings.

But a draft biological opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service, expected in May, should give the first indication of federal officials' take on the subject.

Meanwhile, the comment period on the corps' draft proposal is supposed to end Friday. However, the corps is considering a request from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to extend the comment period by 30 days.

Nethercutt is not a member of the Appropriations subcommittee addressed by Strock, but as a member of the full committee, he can sit in on subcommittee hearings to ask questions.

John Hughes, Associated Press
Not Keeping Score at Dam Hearings, Corps Says
Spokesman Review, March 29, 2000

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