Back Off, Seattle. Leave Snake River Dams Alone,
by Editorial Board
"There are a couple inconvenient truths about the Snake River Dam issue." says Jim Jesering, WA Potato & Onion Association
"Salmon get to the Idaho border suddenly they hit two dams that simply have no passage."
With a straight face and tongue planted in cheek, Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, did his best to make a case for restoring Seattle area lakes and waterways to their natural state.
The legislator's satirical effort to support the Snake River dams was on full display this week at the state Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee meeting.
His presentation turned the table on Westside environmental groups wanting to save salmon runs by breaching dams in Eastern Washington. Instead of looking elsewhere, he encouraged them to take responsibility for their own salmon habitat.
At the hearing, Ericksen provided legislators with a history lesson of how man-made changes near Puget Sound -- like Seattle's Montlake Cut -- drained the wetlands around Lake Washington and dried up the Black River, which used to be full of fish.
While his proposal to study breaching the Ballard Locks and tearing down Seattle Light dams on the Skagit River was not taken seriously, his underlying message was -- and for that, we are grateful.
Ericksen clearly does not approve of Seattle leaders pushing to breach the Snake River dams in Eastern Washington when there are issues that need attention in their own community.
This is a point made often by pro-dam stakeholders, but Ericksen hammered it home.
He told the Tri-City Herald he decided to go forward with his outrageous proposal because he believes Seattle should "transform its own landscape" before trying to dramatically change anyone else's.
Ericksen also added that his legislation, Senate Bill 6830, would give Seattle the honor of going first in environmental restoration.
In a statement released before the meeting, Ericksen said, "I'm sure we could design an impartial study to reach the conclusions we want. Lake Washington property owners might be inconvenienced when the water starts rising. Others might not like it when electricity bills skyrocket. But as they say in Seattle, no sacrifice is too great for somebody else to make."
Senate Committee Chairman Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, told the audience he was given a hard time by colleagues for allowing a hearing on the bill, but he told Ericksen that lawmakers often introduce legislation to make a larger philosophical point, "and that's why I wanted you to have an opportunity. I thought it was fair and equitable."
Despite its absurdity, the bill provided an important opportunity to discuss the importance of the Snake River dams to Eastern Washington's economy.
Jim Jesernig, a former Tri-City senator, spoke on behalf of the potato and grain commissions.
Jesernig said during his time in state politics, he found the "easiest thing to do around here is to have a problem that someone else has got to fix." He said the issue peaked in 2000 when the Seattle City Council, "in a fit of big-city arrogance," said to take out the Snake River dams.
He said that "from any metric around," habitat in Seattle -- especially salmon habitat -- "is a mess."
As for Ericksen's bill to tear down Seattle Light dams and breach the Ballard Locks, Jesernig said he is not in favor, but added: "It doesn't make any more sense to tear out the heart of the city of Seattle than you would tear the heart out of Eastern Washington" by breaching the Snake River dams.
Todd Myers, of the Washington Policy Center and a member of the Puget Sound Recovery Council, added that, "If we are going to recover salmon stocks and if we are going to especially help the orca, the battle will be won or lost in Puget Sound. This is where the battle is."
Myers said that fish who end up on the edges of the water in the Montlake Cut die because of pollution.
Ericksen told the committee that, going forward, "it is important for the people of King County and Seattle to take a very hard look at their own backyard before traveling to the rural parts of Washington state with great ideas on how we can take out dams."
We know Ericksen's bill will go nowhere, but we hope the message behind it sails on.
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