By JAY LETTO
Special to the News
FERC hearing: one more time for the salmon
On Wednesday, March 13, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will once again come to the Gorge, this time to conduct likely its last hearing on the fate of Condit Dam on the White Salmon River.
Despite the stream of disinformation from a handful of local dam-removal opponents, this issue is a no-brainer: If you support restoring salmon to the White Salmon River, dam removal is undoubtedly the best option.
However, recent letters to the editor in local newspapers might give the casual reader pause. Among the ridiculous claims are that: 1. Dam owner PacifiCorp is part of a vast conspiracy of environmental groups that worked behind closed doors to broker this deal; 2. Dam removal will be a disaster to the environment and local ecosystem; 3. Dam removal could lead to local blackouts or higher energy rates; 4. PacifiCorp will just take out the dam and run, leaving our community with the mess and cleanup bill; and 5. That a "vast majority" of our local community opposes removal, which is being foisted upon us by big, bad government agencies.
Let's take these one at a time:
1. The conspiracy accusation is laughable. The current process began in 1993 when FERC held a public hearing in White Salmon to gather comments for its Draft Environmental Impact Statement on Condit Dam relicensing. This was nearly 10 years ago and it made a huge splash in the media because of the outpouring of local support for dam removal. Since then there have been numerous public hearings"some conducted by FERC, some by PacifiCorp, some by other government agencies. In addition, the intervenor process, which included PacifiCorp and any interested parties meeting together for several years to craft a Settlement Agreement amenable to all, was a totally open public process that locals were invited to from the beginning. I attended most of these meetings myself as a Klickitat County resident.
2. Talk about strange bedfellows. To hear Klickitat County commissioners and other dyed-in-the-wool property rights advocates speak against dam removal while arguing for protection of our environment and endangered species is a real head-slapper. Klickitat County's commissioners are openly disdainful of the Endangered Species Act. Indeed, Klickitat County is being sued by the State of Washington for failing to adopt a Critical Areas Ordinance that adequately protects endangered species.
Regarding the science, all relevant state and federal agencies, the tribes, and numerous environmental groups have spent years examining the environmental tradeoffs of removing Condit and are unequivocal: Dam removal is clearly the best environmental option. The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and the Biological Assessment are comprehensive documents that address habitat quality and other environmental concerns in great detail. In addition, the property, including the land leased to cabin owners around Northwestern Lake, is owned by PacifiCorp. What happened to the argument that property owners should be able to do what they want with their land?
3. Condit Dam is only a 14.7-megawatt facility. For comparison, PacifiCorp alone owns 8,000 megawatts, meaning that Condit produces a miniscule 0.18 percent of just PacificCorps' power capability. The amount of electricity we're talking about here is negligible in the greater electricity generation scheme.
4. Referring to the proposed dam removal settlement as the "blow and go" alternative (the moniker used by local removal opponents) is a misnomer intended to infuriate the uninformed. The truth is 180 degrees opposite. The Settlement Agreement actually locks PacifiCorp into footing the bill for dredging and restoration following dam removal -- including $2 million for mitigation and permitting, $1 million for the Yakama Nation's Fishery Enhancement Fund, and $0.5 million for enhancement and maintenance of the Underwood In Lieu Site.
In addition, significant funds will come to the watershed from the state Salmon Funding Recovery Board once dam removal is approved by FERC. But, most importantly, PacifiCorp has been working in good faith for years on this project. It could, as other companies have done, simply abandon the project and leave taxpayers with the removal bill. Instead, the precedent-setting Settlement Agreement allows PacifiCorp to operate the facility for several years in order to pay the estimated $17 million bill for removal.
5. While removal opponents have been very vocal of late, all evidence is that our community actually favors removal. At the last major hearing held by FERC (at the White Salmon Community Center to solicit comments on the final EIS in February 1996), dam removal supporters vastly outnumbered opponents. Of the nearly 50 people who spoke, only about a half-dozen spoke in favor of retaining the dam. Most were cabin owners on Northwestern Lake.
One has to feel for the couple of dozen cabin owners who stand to lose their lake. However, they entered their leases understanding that PacifiCorp owns the lake and the land surrounding it, and that dams don't last forever. Besides, how terrible will it be to live on salmon-bearing riverfront property"
Finally, while some locals have come up with creative arguments to oppose removal, the rest of the country is lining up to support the effort. Even the National Hydropower Association, the pro-dam lobbying group, said that removing Condit Dam is a "win-win" solution.
Those who want to see salmon restored to the White Salmon River must speak up one more time for the salmon. I hope to see you all at the meeting at 7 p.m. on March 13 in the Columbia Room at the Best Western Hood River Inn to tell FERC that you support removing Condit Dam and restoring salmon to the White Salmon River. Come speak and help our salmon come home.
Jay Letto lives in White Salmon, Wash.