A new chapter in the two-decade-old Snake River salmon and
dams saga unfolded in Lewiston Wednesday ( Nov. 16) as hundreds of people
showed up for a meeting designed to guide federal agencies in the forthcoming
study of the controversial issue.
The meeting at the Red Lion Hotel in Lewiston, part of the
process known as scoping, asked participants to advise the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration and Bureau of Reclamation on issues
that should be analyzed during a five-year environmental impact statement.
Federal officials tended dozens of stations with information
on the Snake and Columbia River dams and the fish that are listed as threatened
and endangered. The more than 300 people who attended were able to watch an
introductory video, visit the information displays and ask questions of federal
They were also able to make handwritten comments, type them
into a computer or to dictate them to a stenographer. Many were prepared to
make comments that fell along familiar story lines. Doug Huffman, a
Cavendish-area farmer, said the dams provide efficient transportation and power
generation and should be retained.
If they were breached, he said the ensuing construction
associated with boosting the needed rail and highway capacity would be costly
and the manufacturing of steel for the rail and asphalt for the roadways would
add to greenhouse gases responsible for climate change. It would also make it
more expensive for him to get crops like wheat to faraway markets.
“In the short term, we simply can’t do it. In the long term,
once we expand the rail and the highways, it’s a lot more expensive,” he said.
“The power is another issue. Hydro plants provide electricity. If we take (the
dams) out we are going to have to burn more fossil fuels.”
Meghan Foard and Nick Fuller of Moscow said there is no
question the dams should be sacrificed to save wild salmon and steelhead runs.
Foard questioned some of the information presented by the agencies, said the
dams don’t make economic sense and removing them would restore wild fish to
numbers not seen in decades.
“Breach it baby,” she said.
Fuller said federal officials should dust off the Corps’
2002 environmental impact statement on the lower Snake River dams and follow
its advice on dam breaching instead of spending time and money on a new study.
“We don’t need to wait five more years,” he said.
Wild salmon and steelhead that return to the Snake River
have been listed under the Endangered Species Act since the early 1990s.
Fisheries biologists generally agree that the dams, by making it more difficult
for both juvenile and adults to migrate to and from the ocean, have harmed the
fish and breaching them is the best way to save them.
However, the government has repeatedly found that breaching
is not the only way to protect the fish. Instead it has endorsed efforts to
restore salmon and steelhead habitat and pushed reforms to fishing, hatchery
practices and dam operations as adequate to keep the fish from slipping further
Conservation groups and others successfully challenged those
plans as insufficient in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2010 and again in May. In the latest
ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon of Portland directed the
agencies responsible for operating dams to write an environmental impact
statement as dictated by the National Environmental Policy Act.
“The federal Columbia River power system remains a system
that ‘cries out’ for a new approach and for new thinking if wild Pacific salmon
and steelhead, which have been in these waters since well before the arrival of
homo sapiens, are to have any reasonable chance of surviving their encounter
with modern man,” he wrote in his May ruling. “Perhaps following the processes
that Congress has established both in the National Environmental Policy Act and
in the Endangered Species Act finally may illuminate a path that will bring
these endangered and threatened species out of peril.”
The agencies are expected to produce a draft of that document
by 2019, with a final version following in 2021.
The pro- and anti-dam forces each held events associated
with the meeting. Environmentalists met in a banquet room at the hotel where
Kooskia resident and Port of Lewiston critic Linwood Laughy spoke about the
importance of the fish, the declining shipping volumes on the river and the
threat of climate change.
“Our fish are pushing (toward) extinction,” he said.
Across the parking lot, the Snake River Multiple Use
Advocates held a reception in the old Sports Authority store. There Port of
Lewiston Manager David Doeringsfeld said container shipping on the river is
down because of labor problems at the Port of Portland, but maintained the
volume of commodities like grain have been trending upward over the past
decade. He said fish are also on the upswing compared to lows of the 1930s.
For more information and schedule for further
hearings go to the federal agencies’ “Columbia River Systems Operations” site
Information on the EIS is at http://www.crso.info/eis.html.
-- CBB, Oct. 7, 2016, “Agencies Seek Public ‘Scoping’
Comments For EIS Related To New Basin Salmon/Steelhead Recovery Plan” http://www.cbbulletin.com/437702.aspx
-- CBB, May 6, 2016, “Federal Court Again Rejects Columbia
Basin Salmon/Steelhead Recovery Plan; Orders New BiOp By 2018” http://www.cbbulletin.com/436667.aspx