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Return to Previous PageSeattle City Council Blew It On Snake River Dams

Francois X. Forgette
Post-Intelligencer

I was disappointed to learn that the Seattle City Council recently passed a resolution favoring the breaching of the four dams on the lower Snake River here in Eastern Washington. I am well familiar with Seattle, having grown up on Queen Anne Hill in the ’50s, ’60s, and early ’70s before moving in 1977 to the Tri-Cities, located at the confluence of the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

It is difficult over here to understand the council’s decision. The removal of these dams is far from being a good solution for our state. First, a recent artide in the Seattle papers by former U.S. Sen. Mark O. Haffield confirms that the salmon stocks listed as threatened or endangered on the Snake River are only three of the twelve stocks so listed in the Columbia Basin.

What about the rest? The removal of these four dams would only get at a very small part of the problem, a problem that can be better addressed by a broad-based approach dealing with issues of habitat quality, hatchery operations, harvest allowances, and improved hydroelectric operations. These so-called 4 H’s” will require tremendous effort and expense to be successfully addressed, but success will only come if the focus is on the entire Columbia River system, induding the Snake and other tributaries, as well as the ocean itself.

Second, there would be tremendous losses and liabilities if these four dams were breached here in Eastern Washington. Irrigated agriculture would be significantly impacted by the outright loss of irrigation water or extensive modifications to re-engineer and relocate irrigation withdrawal points. Furthermore, our region would lose the water highway which handles tremendous barge traffic of grain and other commodities from the Tri-Cities all the way to lewiston, Idaho and back. This would place thousands of additional semi-trucks on our rural highways, which are not designed for such increased traffic. This would create significant road safety issues, to say nothing of increased air pollution.

The railroads are no alternative either as they are presently operating at capacity. According to at least one Corps of Engineers’ economist who spoke at a heaving in Richland, it was their best estimate it would take the railroad industry 100 years (yes, a century) to add sufficient capacity to be able to handle the shipping needs orphaned by the loss of barge transport on the Snake River. So much for “next day” delivery.

Lastly, the Emerald City Council should note the often-cited fact that the four dams in question produce sufficient clean hydro power to handle all of the electricity needs for all of Seattle! In light of the brewing power shortage in the Western states this is no time for an electrical consumer the size of Seattle to be lobbying for the dismemberment of our state’s hydropower system. Perhaps the City Council would prefer that these hydro facilities be replaced by either coal-fired plants or nuclear ones. In either case, its’ safe to say that they won’t want it in their back yard.

The City Council in my former home town needs to understand just how important these dams really are to the Tri-City area, the Columbia Basin, Eastern Washington, and even the west side of the state. The suggestion by the City Council that these darns be summarily removed is as stinging to us here as it would be to Seattleites if the City Councils in the Tri-Cities resolved that the Hiram locks be removed, the Montlake Cut refilled, the downtown waterfront redredged, the Denny Regrade ungraded, and the shore of Lake Washington condemned and replanted as a national monument.

Instead of focusing on such draconian measures on either side of the mountains, our state should be concentrating on the many other meaningful courses of action where we could build a consensus and get on with the important goal of saving our salmon. Through good science and engineering, we can have salmon and dams. We just need to work together and we need to start soon. Let’s not forget that there are two halves to this great state and we need to start thinking of it as a whole!

By the way, I have a solution to the transportation problems plaguing my old home town: just move your homes and businesses over here to the Tri-City area! We have a vibrant economy, a higlily educated and high-tech work force, business-friendly municipalities, great golf courses, world-dass wineries, and freeways we haven’t even used yet. The sunny climate here is also a marvelous alternative to Seattle and provides a life style free of umbrellas, raincoats and wet shoes. We’ll leave the light on!

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Seattle, WA
October 7, 2000

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