Judge Denies Request
by William McCall, Associated Press
Scientists at center claim they were victims of retaliation by Bonneveville Power Administration
PORTLAND, Ore. -- A federal judge has denied a request to keep open the Northwest Fish Passage Center, whose researchers claimed they were the victims of political retaliation by the Bonneville Power Administration and Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.
U.S. District Judge Ancer Haggerty ruled Friday that decisions on funding and government contracts are up to Congress, not the courts. He also said he doubted the researchers could prove the retaliation claim.
Another federal judge relied on data from the center to order increased spills at Columbia and Snake river dams this summer to aid juvenile salmon migration -- at an estimated cost of $60 million in lost hydroelectric generation.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, representing fish center staff members, filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking a temporary restraining order to keep the center open.
Richard Condit, attorney for the fish center staff, argued at the Friday hearing that Haggerty had the authority to hear any claims about the constitutional rights of the researchers. He said their rights to free speech and due process had been violated.
"This has been a hatchet job to get rid of people who are reporting what is going on in the river system," Condit said.
The scientists at the center have monitored salmon, steelhead, bull trout and other fish moving through the Columbia and lower Snake rivers. They reported to fishery managers, American Indian tribes and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. Last year, the center's budget was $1.3 million, Bonneville officials said.
Steve Odell, an assistant U.S. attorney representing Bonneville, argued the only issue was the center's contract, which was awarded to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory after Congress decided to eliminate funding for the center.
"Bonneville has followed Congress' directions very scrupulously," Odell said.
Odell also cited a 1999 ruling by Haggerty on another Bonneville contract. Then, the judge said it was well established that courts do not have authority to step into contract disputes for government agencies.
Haggerty agreed, and denied the temporary restraining order. But he set April 10 for a hearing on a preliminary injunction at the request of Condit.
The center is to close by Sunday, the end of its current contract. Its duties will be divided up Monday between the commission and the national lab.
Michele DeHart, the biologist who manages the fish center, said after the hearing she was looking for another job.
The Fish Passage Center was established in Portland in the early 1980s by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. It has a staff of 10 researchers and support workers.
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