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Commentaries and editorials

Many at Hearings Support Plan
to Breach Federal Dams

by Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 24, 2000

PORTLAND -- Most people who spoke at hearings on breaching federal dams to save salmon supported the idea, according to the regional commander of the Army Corp of Engineers.

The collective sentiment from four Northwest states could influence the corps' final recommendation to Congress -- if studies do not clearly indicate whether hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River should be breached.

"If there is discretion between one thing or another, the receptivity of the population is going to be a component in our decision," said Brig. Gen. Carl Strock, the Portland-based commander of the corps' Northwest Division.

Still, Strock said the hearings may have been dominated by advocates of breaching because they could have been better organized. "The number of people who stepped up before a microphone may not truly represent the feelings of the region," he said.

The outcome of the hearings, attended by several thousand people, was a solid victory for conservation and fishing groups, as well as tribes and others who support a proposal to breach Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams in Eastern Washington.

Those groups, led by the Seattle-based Save Our Wild Salmon, waged an all-out campaign to pack the meetings with supporters of breaching.

The corps has not completed its analysis of roughly 2,000 comments received at the hearings.

Nicole Cordan, policy director for Save Our Wild Salmon, said those who spoke favored breaching by a ratio of about 3-to-1.

Opponents of breaching agree that they were outnumbered. They say that should not influence federal deliberations.

"They had more money, more time to spend organizing," said Doug Riggs of the Labor Coalition for Responsible River Use, a Portland group that represents 14 labor unions opposed to breaching.

The dams allow barge transportation inland all the way to Lewiston, Idaho. They also generate low-cost electric power. And one of the dams -- Ice Harbor near Pasco -- is used to irrigate surrounding farmland. Riggs said breaching opponents think there are ways to save salmon and leave the dams in place.

Such measures could include using barges to carry young salmon past dams, continuing to invest in improvements to dams that make them less dangerous to salmon and restoring streams where salmon spawn.

Only in Pasco were opponents of breaching in the majority. They were outnumbered at hearings in Alaska, Seattle, Astoria, Spokane and Boise. Even near Lewiston, the number of supporters equaled the number of opponents.

Associated Press
Many at Hearings Support Plan to Breach Federal Dams
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 24, 2000

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