the film
Commentaries and editorials

Breaching Won't Happen;
It's Time to Start Seeking
a Needed Consensus

by Joe Stegner, State Senator
The Idaho Statesman, June 5, 2005

Let's get one thing straight. It is absolutely inconceivable that the four lower Snake River dams will be breached or removed in the foreseeable future, in spite of recent rulings by a federal judge in Portland. Why? Because there is no consensus or political will within this region (or the nation) to do so and therefore it is not going to happen anytime soon. Period.

What will happen, though, is that we will continue wasting time and money debating the unrealistic dam breaching scenario rather than focusing our limited resources on realistic solutions that recognize the political reality of the salmon issue.

For 15 years, we have argued the science of salmon survival and the impacts dams have on fish migration, and there is now significant understanding of the notion that dams negatively impact fish. But there is also broad acceptance of the theory that ocean conditions are far more important to fish survival than the current configuration of dams on the Columbia and lower Snake rivers.

Now add to that the fact that many people appreciate and like dams. Most citizens of Lewiston and Idaho appreciate the benefits of power generation, commercial navigation, irrigation, flood control and flatwater recreation that are created by dams.

This ongoing conflict between competing interests of fish versus dams is not going to be settled by the court system. These are political issues and, as such, will be settled ultimately by the political process, not the legal process.

Judges concern themselves with what the law is. Politicians and lawmakers concern themselves with what the law should be and they are very adept at changing the law to fit the current political climate. Judges can't do that.

So while we spend time and money arguing what the law currently is, keep in mind that Congress holds the pursestrings and will finally decide the fate of the dams on the lower Snake River. Congress is not about to appropriate billions of dollars to breach those dams and then spend billions more to mitigate the economic impacts that would result from dam removal.

Congress is not about to make a political decision that is contrary to the positions of most of the congressional delegations from this region. And the president is not about to reverse his stated position of protecting those dams. In other words, we are not breaching the dams of the lower Snake anytime soon.

Lewiston has welcomed the large fish runs of both salmon and steelhead over the past few years. The entire region will continue to contribute toward efforts that will enhance salmon survival in the future. But we remain unwilling to accept the either-or, dams-or-fish scenario that is presented by river preservationists.

The "dam breaching" rhetoric only benefits those individuals who are committed to returning the river to its traditional state. That extremist environmental position does not move fish survival efforts forward but, in fact, has the opposite effect by polarizing positions and reducing regional cooperation.

Advocates for fish would be better served and would enhance the crucial potential for success if they would abandon the "dam breaching at any cost" philosophy and recognize that is not going to happen. Only then will Idaho be able find the consensus that is so essential to solving any political challenge in a democratic society.

Joe Stegner is a state senator from Lewiston.
Breaching Won't Happen; It's Time to Start Seeking a Needed Consensus
The Idaho Statesman, June 5, 2005

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