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Tribes To Test Run Fish Processor Facility As Way To Market ‘Indian-Caught’ Columbia River Salmon
Posted on Friday, August 05, 2011 (PST)

In a pilot test planned in early September, some 100,000 pounds of chinook salmon will be processed at the East White Salmon fish facility built in 2006 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Columbia River treaty-fishing tribes.


Among other things, the tribes hope the test shows that the City of Bingen’s wastewater treatment plant can handle discharges from the fish processing facility.


As envisioned, the fish will be gutted, filleted and vacuum sealed by an “experienced seafood processor” to be hired by FishCo, LLC, the company formed this year by the four tribes who hope eventually to market salmon with an “Indian-caught” label.


The facility was designed to give four treaty fishing tribes – Umatilla, Warm Springs, Yakama and Nez Perce - more control over natural resources and to make tribal fishers larger players within the salmon market. It is the first time that the four tribes have partnered in an economic development initiative.


At a cost of $4.2 million, the Corps of Engineers constructed the 8,000 square foot building that includes cutting/gutting tables, a blast freezer, refrigeration unit and freezer. However, the facility has sat unused, except to make ice (more than million pounds) that’s been distributed to tribal fishers.


It’s taken a few years for all four tribes to get on board with official support of a co-managed company, but that finally happened last year when each tribe appointed representatives and ponied up $7,500 for start-up costs, setting in motion plans to see if this project will work.


“Things have not been happening as fast as we’d like to move forward,” said Kat Brigham, secretary of the Umatilla’s Board of Trustees, the tribes’ representative on FishCo, LLC, and a fisher on the river. “But we wanted to keep politics out of it so it can be a tribal business.”


The FishCo, LLC, Board of Directors, which includes two volunteer members from each tribe, hope to get some answers and direction from the pilot test. A total of about 5,500 fish would be processed over a period of about 10 days.


Preliminary indications are that the Bingen facilities – sewer lines and wastewater treatment plant - will be able to handle the flows and pollutant discharges, which mostly would be oils and fats from fish, but an official user agreement still would be required.


Jan Brending, Bingen city administrator, said the pilot test should provide the information that the city can use in developing agreements with nearby White Salmon and with FishCo.


The fish processing facility is actually inside the city limits of White Salmon, which contracts with Bingen to use that city’s wastewater treatment plant.


According to Brending, White Salmon would bill FishCo a monthly sewer rate and probably an “impact fee.”


“We’re very supportive of the pilot test,” Brending said. “We feel it is critical. We have concerns about the impacts on treatment for both cities, and issues about costs, but we want to develop an agreement between the two cities and FishCo.”


Brending said Bingen officials are working with consultant Allen Ismond to develop the pilot test and cost estimates for expected upgrades at the treatment facility.


“When it (processing facility) goes into full production we’ll have to have upgrades in place,” Brending said, “so we need to have estimates now.”


Brigham agreed.


“The test will give us more information and once we’ve got that we can start to develop a plan for 2012. We want to catch fish from the Columbia River, process it and market it as Indian caught. We’ll be exercising our treaty rights.”


Harris Teo from the Yakama Tribe has been hired as an interim manager to help conduct the test, but it will take the hiring of an “experienced seafood processor” not only to test processing capabilities, but possibly in the long term to run the facility.


If an experienced seafood processor can’t be found, an alternative would be for tribal members to operate the facility themselves.


“Operating it themselves is not the preferred alternative. The tribes will be looking for an experienced seafood processor to come in with equipment and cash to purchase fish. He’ll have to bring tables, tools and staff to conduct the test,” said Jon Mathews, at the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which has shepherded the tribes through the process with technical advice and some funding for planning and development.


There are a lot “what ifs” that the test could answer, Mathews said.


“The vision is that tribal people can eventually run it, but an experienced processor is the only way this is going to work right now,” Brigham said.


Added Brigham, “I know how to catch fish, but I don’t know how to market large quantities of fish, or market to restaurants. It’s an industry that nearly died out, even among non-Indians, but we want to bring it back and market our own.”




* Idaho Plans Study Of Building Dam/Reservoir On Weiser River; Cites Salmon Recovery Benefits


The Idaho Water Resources Board on July 29 approved the spending of up to $2 million for geologic and operational investigations and analysis that could build momentum toward a long-held goal of boosting water supplies by building a dam in the Weiser River canyon.


“It’s courageous” in a time of considerable state and federal budget austerity, said Jack Peterson, a senior adviser with the Idaho Department of Water Resources.


“And it is very, very forward looking” with population growth and other issues pushing up demand for a limited water supply, Peterson said. And many say climate change – warming -- is advancing and will bring earlier runoff (escapement of water held in mountain snowpack) and drop river flows later in the summer season.


The proposed dam at the Weiser River-Galloway site would hold back nearly one million acre feet of water and inundate 6,918 acres of land. A small irrigation diversion dam has been in place at the proposed site for more than 100 years, Peterson said. The Galloway diversion dam was named after a member of Idaho’s territorial legislature who was an early Weiser area settler.


The site is located 13.5 miles east of the city of Weiser and the Weiser River’s confluence with the Snake River. Wild Snake River steelhead, fall and spring/summer chinook and sockeye salmon are protected by the Endangered Species Act and targets for recovery efforts.


The new dam and reservoir, the planners say, would help boost the region’s power supply, provide flood control and irrigation water, expand recreational opportunities and firm up availability of water for flow augmentation to improve conditions downstream for migrating salmon and steelhead.


“The bottom line is that this project is huge when it comes to salmon recovery in the Columbia River basin,” Peterson said.


The Weiser-Galloway site was first studied after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received authorization from the U.S. Senate’s Public Works Committee in 1954. Studies were also advanced in the 1970s and 1980s but the time apparently was not right, Peterson said.


Most recently the Corps, which was hired by the state, completed a comprehensive review of earlier studies, including a rigorous analysis of what gaps in information that would need to be filled before deciding whether to move forward with comprehensive new environmental, engineering and economic feasibility studies.


The Weiser-Galloway Gap analysis, Economic Evaluation and Risk-Based Cost Analysis Project was completed this spring under the Corps’ Planning Assistance to States authority.


Two key issues emerged from the Corps review, the need for: 1) Coring, analyzing, mapping and seismic evaluation of the geologic structure and surrounding faults to determine the safety, suitability and integrity at the dam and reservoir site, and 2) analyzing operational scenarios to confirm and quantify the extent of potential project benefits.


A range of operating scenarios will be analyzed in order to develop a plan that optimizes flood control, hydro, storage, irrigation, recreation and flow augmentation while maximizing economic benefits, according to a fact sheet prepared for the IWRB.


The studies would be conducted jointly by the state and coordinated with the Idaho Power Company, Bureau of Reclamation, Bonneville Power Administration and NOAA Fisheries Service. The studies are scheduled to be completed by mid-2012.


The earth and rock-fill embankment dam itself would be about 300 feet high and 2,200 feet long. Total costs could range up to $500 million (2011 dollars).


Peterson called the estimated $350 to $550 per acre-foot storage capital costs “the most economical large storage project” that could be built.


A new reservoir on the Weiser River would provide economic benefits to the water storage systems on the Boise, Payette and upper Snake rivers through potential substitution and relief of up to 40,000, 160,000 and 200,000 acre feet of water now released respectively from those basins to meet anadromous fish flow augmentation requirements,” the IWRB fact sheet said.


“Flow augmentation benefits for the lower Snake, including reducing Dworshak drawdowns, and firming up availability of water for flow augmentation and fish recovery” is another benefit, the fact sheet says.


Likewise the addition of more on-demand water supply would increase flexibility of flood control rule curves at Brownlee Dam, possibly resulting in additional power generation there, and provide hydropower management benefits for the Hells Canyon Complex and lower Snake/Columbia river hydro systems. Brownlee is one of three Idaho Power Company hydro projects on the lower Snake that make up the Hells Canyon Complex.


Among the board’s charges is to provide financial assistance for water development and conservation projects. The board makes loans and grants from two accounts, water management and revolving development. A third account, the Aquifer Planning and Management Fund, was added by the Idaho Legislature in 2008. That account was established to fund technical studies, facilitation services, hydrologic monitoring, measurement and comprehensive aquifer planning and management.


The 2008 Legislature, in a House Joint Memorial, encouraged the IWRB, in coordination with other public and private entities, to initiate and complete the study of additional water storage projects in the state including, but not limited to, the study of the potential benefits for the Galloway Dam surface water storage project.


The IWRB last Friday authorized its chairman to execute necessary agreements or contracts to carry out the geologic and operational investigations and analysis.


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