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Crapo Seeks Help for Orofino

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, August 15(?), 2002

Senator wins pledges from feds to protect local economy from effects of Dworshak drawdowns

OROFINO -- U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo secured pledges from top federal officials Monday saying they would work to find ways to mitigate economic woes caused by Dworshak Reservoir drawdowns.

Despite no clear statutory authority to help, officials from the National Marine Fisheries Service, Bonneville Power Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to serve on a board with Crapo to oversee the economic mitigation effort.

Each summer the 55-mile-long reservoir on the North Fork of the Clearwater River is lowered 80 feet as water is flushed downstream to cool the Snake River and help flush young fall chinook salmon to the ocean.

The Endangered Species Act is driving the annual drawdowns, but the act doesn't contain a provision to compensate communities when federal actions disrupt local economies. But Crapo said the agencies have a responsibility to help and he would not let them turn their backs on Orofino.

"I don't think that is a sufficient answer," he said.

He asked the federal officials to search for ways their agencies can help the community and help him write legislation if they can't.

"What legislation do we need to introduce in Congress to address this apparent blind spot in the Endangered Species Act?" he asked.

Bob Lohn, regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service at Seattle, said the Bush administration wants to protect species while also protecting communities.

"We don't sustain the Endangered Species Act by torturing communities," he said. "We are looking for ways to make the act work."

Lohn cautioned an ideal solution that will leave the reservoir full during the summer is not likely.

"I'm doubtful we can reach a resolution that works for fish and works for you in that perfect way."

But he added the silver lining of the drawdowns and other efforts may be positive economic effects of the robust hatchery salmon and steelhead runs of the past few years that have attracted thousands of anglers.

"I'm hoping you will see some offset there," Lohn said.

Lohn also pledged to work with the Economic Development Administration, a sister agency of the National Marine Fisheries Service in the Department of Commerce, to help look for money to mitigate for the drawdowns.

Steven Wright, administrator for the Bonneville Power Administration, noted his agency doles out $500 million a year for fish and wildlife recovery and a good chunk of that money lands in the Clearwater River basin.

This year the basin received $14 million in projects including $5.2 million for the Nez Perce Tribal hatchery at Cherrylane.

The Northwest Power Planning Council and BPA recently changed the way they fund fish and wildlife recovery in the Columbia Basin.

State, tribal and local officials in each so-called subbasin in the region are developing plans that will guide fish and wildlife recovery spending for years to come. Wright urged Clearwater County officials to get involved in crafting the Clearwater subbasin plan.

"There is an opportunity right now to get in on the ground floor of subbasin planning and make sure your voices are heard," he said.

The county should work on subbasin planning at least on a monthly basis, according to Wright. He offered to provide one of his employees to guide them in the effort.

Lt. Col. Edward Kertis, commander of the Walla Walla District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said his agency would work to make the reservoir more user-friendly during the drawdowns. But he said some projects would take at least three years to complete because of the National Environmental Policy Act that ensures the public is involved and environmental impacts are considered.

"The Corps can engineer and fix anything and we will do what we are told," he said.

City Administrator Rick Lamm opened the meeting by outlining some of the economic impacts highlighted by a University of Idaho study.

The drawdowns cause the county a short-term loss of up to $1.35 million in sales each year and the loss of 36 jobs.

Lamm said when the reservoir is full, it serves as an economic engine for the city and county. But when the reservoir is lowered and its banks are exposed and muddy, the engine sputters and dollars headed for the local economy go elsewhere.

The Orofino Chamber of Commerce regularly gets calls from people wanting to know how high the water is, according to Lamm.

"If it's too low, they just stay away," he said.

Dennis Harper, who four years ago toured the reservoir with Crapo when it was full and again at 80 feet below full pool, said he is pleased that momentum seems to be building.

The oversight board formed by Crapo includes Wright, Lohn and Kertis and likely will have a representative from the Economic Development Council.

Eric Barker
Crapo Seeks Help for Orofino
Lewiston Tribune, August 15(?), 2002

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