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Dam removal isn't an option under Bush's plan

 Seattle Times 12/1/04

By Hal Bernton
Seattle Times staff reporter

The Bush administration yesterday finalized a plan that seeks to protect Columbia River Basin salmon without resorting to removing any dams even as a last-ditch option.

The plan represents a controversial policy shift from the Clinton administration, which ruled four years ago that dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers jeopardized runs of salmon classified as threatened and endangered. That plan left open dam removal as a final option for saving salmon, and environmental and tribal groups said yesterday it should remain an option.

The plan is the blueprint for a multibillion-dollar effort to safeguard 14 runs of Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. In the plan, federal officials call for installing a new generation of devices they say will help more young salmon survive the downstream migration to ocean feeding grounds. Those devices ease fish in their passage across the dams, and could cost up to $6 billion over 10 years.

Federal officials yesterday portrayed the plan as a step forward and noted that many salmon runs have substantially improved in recent years.

But environmentalists and tribes questioned whether the new fish-passage devices would substantially benefit the runs. And they also said the plan scaled back the goals for recovery, setting a troubling precedent for future restoration efforts under the federal act.

The plan likely will face close scrutiny in U.S. District Court, where a judge last year found flaws in the 2000 Clinton administration plan and ordered the government to come up with a new document. In a September hearing, Judge James Redden, reviewing a draft of the new plan, said he was "concerned about whether or not there is a train wreck in the future."

Redden also questioned whether the federal government could change the environmental baselines midway to conclude that the dams do not jeopardize salmon.





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