Gathering gives more info on controversial issue
By ERIC BARKER of the Tribune
A new chapter in the two-decade-old Snake River salmon and dams saga unfolded in Lewiston Wednesday 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 officials.
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 toward extinction. Pro-breaching forces 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.
Barker may be contacted at [email protected] or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.