Environmental Group Argues to Support Spillby Associated Press
The Oregonian, June 19, 2005
LEWISTON, Idaho -- Attorneys representing the National Wildlife Federation say a federal judge was right to order four Snake and Columbia River dams to spill water this summer to save endangered salmon runs.
Attorneys Todd True of Seattle and Daniel Rohlf of Portland, Ore., represented the group in a filing to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The filing came in response to the federal government's request to halt an order issued last month by U.S. District Judge James Redden. The order is intended to provide water to help float millions of endangered salmon and steelhead down the mainstem rivers to the Pacific Ocean.
"The lower court's injunction is not a reckless experiment in judicial activism but a tailored ruling well-grounded in the evidence and case law under the Endangered Species Act by a district court that is intimately familiar with the Appellants' failed efforts to comply with the ESA and protect listed salmon and steelhead," the Federation lawyers said.
The Department of Justice is seeking to block Redden's order on behalf of three federal agencies. They contend that the court lacks the expertise needed to operate dams and that the spill order would cost Bonneville Power Administration ratepayers $67 million.
The legal fight to recover endangered salmon and steelhead has raged for decades in the Northwest, pitting power companies and water users against fish advocates, commercial fishermen and the sport fishing industry.
Last year, the federal government issued a new salmon and dam management plan for the Columbia River Basin, including the Snake River. Unlike an earlier plan, the new document said dams on the rivers would not put protected fish in jeopardy.
The plan was based on an investment assumption of $6 billion to retrofit the dams with weirs designed to help juvenile fish past the concrete and earthen structures.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also said the dams could be considered part of the natural environment and that only the harm caused by their operation -- not their existence -- could be considered when determining if they put fish in further danger of extinction.
Redden didn't agree. In May, he ruled the federal plan was "arbitrary and capricious." On June 10, he ordered the government to spill water at four of the dams to help juvenile fall chinook salmon.
The Justice Department will have an opportunity to respond to the filing Monday, the same day the spill is to begin on the rivers.
The appellate court could rule as soon as Tuesday on the stay request.
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