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Conservation Groups Contend
Snake River Dams Can Go

by Nicholas K. Geranios, Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 23, 2004

SPOKANE, Wash. -- It would cost between $44 million and $420 million to increase railroad capacity to carry crops now moved by barges if four dams on the Snake River are breached to help endangered salmon, according to a new study by conservation groups.

But dam proponents said the study is flawed and intended primarily to increase support for removing the dams, an issue so hot that President Bush has vowed repeatedly to protect the dams.

The study was commissioned by American Rivers, Idaho Rivers United and the National Wildlife Federation, which contend the dams are a major barrier to the recovery of salmon runs, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

"An updated rail system would offer farmers an affordable and effective way to ship grain to market, protect existing businesses in southeastern Washington, and improve the prospects for attracting new business," said Rob Masonis, regional director for American Rivers.

But a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., whose district includes the dams, said there is no evidence that breaching the structures would improve salmon runs.

"The report shows that opponents of the dams are more concerned about dam removal than salmon recovery," spokeswoman April Gentry said.

The costs of physically breaching the dam were not figured into the report's estimates, she said.

"The American Rivers report amounts to a $1 billion science experiment," Gentry said.

Salmon runs have been increasing in recent years, and removing dams would hurt salmon habitat, Gentry said.

Conservationists for years have advocated removing the dams as a way to help migrating salmon reach the ocean and eventually return to their spawning grounds.

But the dams open the river for cargo barges to travel between Lewiston, Idaho, and Pacific Ocean ports. Critics have said that increasing the number of trucks and trains to carry grain and other commodities would create more pollution.

Trains create three times the pollution of barges, Gentry said.

"Where now 100 trains go through Spokane, it would mean 500 trains," to move the wheat carried by barges, she said.

The groups hired transportation economists BST Associates to examine what infrastructure improvements would be necessary to provide a comparable transportation system for Northwest farmers shipping their goods to market. BST Associates did not evaluate the efficacy of dam removal as a means to recover salmon and steelhead populations.

Upgrading grain elevators and the rail system to meet this extra traffic would likely require an investment of between $43.8 million and $420 million, the study found. That is lower than a 2002 Army Corps of Engineers estimate of $206.7 million to $541.7 million.

The study also found:

Last May, a federal judge in Portland, Ore., threw out the government's Columbia and Snake rivers salmon recovery plan as inadequate and gave the Bush administration one year to come up with a new plan.

In August, President Bush visited one of the dams and said his administration would work to improve salmon runs while retaining the four dams.

The dams kill many young salmon migrating to the ocean, with spinning metal blades, gases and water-pressure changes.

Lower Snake River Transportation Study

Nicholas K. Geranios, Associated Press
Conservation Groups Contend Snake River Dams Can Go
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 23, 2004

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