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A Beautiful Day in the Valley Stays That Way

by Elaine Williams, Tara King
Lewiston Tribune, February 11, 2000

Calm prevails at Clarkston forum

Maybe it was the sunshine and warm temperatures on a February day.

Perhaps everyone knew even the smallest scuffle would turn the dozens of media cameras toward the spectacle and away from their comments.

Whatever the reason, calmness prevailed at Thursday's meetings on salmon issues. The even attracted hundreds of dam supporters and breaching advocates to the Lewis-Clark Convention Center in Clarkston.

Some worried it could have turned violent.

"This is pretty tame compared to what I expected," said Marie Moser of Spokane. "Everyone is keeping their cool."

By mid-afternoon, Clarkston Police Chief Vertie Brown was confident enough in how people were behaving to take a quick break and grab a sandwich at the nearby Port of Clarkston office. Law enforcement used the building as an operations hub.

"They're doing fine," Brown said. "I've always had faith in the residents of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. I never expected them to be anything but civil."

Plenty of police were on hand, staying especially visible at the entrance to the convention center, where a handful of demonstrators on both sides of the issue stood less than 10 feet apart.

Signs saying "Breach the Dams" and "Resource Workers are the Real Environmentalists" tilted inches away from each other.

Every now and then conversation became heated between the two sides at the door.

"What about the sedimentation?" demanded one woman, her hands firmly planted on her hips. "What are you going to do with all the mud when the water's gone?"

Let it slide down the river and dredge it up, replied a young man with a ponytail and a smirk.

Nearby, five or six Nez Perce Indians, including Lee Whiteplume and Tony Smith, clustered around a drum covered with elk hide.

The sounds of drumming and singing carried across the parking lot.

"We want to show a deep sense of support for our people in there," said Whiteplume, nodding toward the convention center.

"And it really wakes up the soul."

For some, the day started before the sun rose. Brandon Wells of Clarkston arrived at 4:30 a.m. to set up a camper at one of the parking lot entrances. He served coffee throughout the day.

Potlatch Corp. spokesman Frank Carroll zipped into the parking lot at about 7 a.m.

"Just seeing what's happening," he said.

Across town, dam supporters took to the bridges and intersections, holding signs and giving the thumbs up to the occasional honk.

Environmentalists and leaders of the Nez Perce Tribe began the day with a news conference at the Southway boat ramp. Tribal members sang and drummed with the river calm and glassy in the background.

A handful of dam supporters attended the gathering holding picket signs, but didn't interrupt the proceedings.

Back at the convention center, cars filled the parking lot and a nearby boat dock. Other vehicles were packed into an adjacent field.

A line outside the convention center began to form at about 9:30 a.m. Some sat in lawn chairs. By the time the building opened, the line stretched more than 400 people long.

Just before noon, someone realized it wasn't so easy to tell which side people were on and started handing out bright yellow ribbons to symbolize solidarity among dam supporters.

In turn, breaching advocates slapped on round stickers reading "We need salmon."

Just 20 minutes after the doors to the meeting room opened, a meeting organizer made an announcement.

"Our room is at capacity. so we're not going to be able to accommodate all of you."

Those already sitting cooperated by raising hands if they were sitting next to vacant seats to help seat as many people as possible.

Once the hearing began, many of those who didn't get into the meeting room listened to testimony on outside speakers. Some held signs with slogans such as "Fish or Facts. Dams are not the Problem," "Keep Our Clean Cheap Electricity" and "Fish Mean Jobs Too."

Throughout the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, those who couldn't attend tuned into live radio and television broadcasts.

Inside the meeting room, Cathryn Collis, a contracted moderator, was in charge of crowd control.

The agencies that organized the meeting have had independent moderators at all of the sites to give the meetings an objective tone, said Nola Conway, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman.

Collis started by spending several minutes explaining the ground rules. Clappiing, booing and banner waving weren't allowed.

"We want to have a safe and respectful (atmosphere)," Collis said. "There are police officers on site, but hopefully they won't be needed."

the orderly scene inside and outside the meeting room repeated itself for the evening presentation and testimony.

As of late Thursday night, law enforcement had not been summoned for help. Organizers were expecting it to stay that way.

"The cooperation of all the different groups is what has made this event so successful," Conway said.

Elaine Williams and Tara King
A Beautiful Day in the Valley Stays That Way
Lewiston Tribune, February 11, 2000

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