Salmon Programs may Lose Millionsby Staff
The Spokesman Review, February 21, 2003
Portland -- Salmon protection programs would lose about $47 million under cuts tentatively approved Thursday by regional planners struggling to compensate for a Bonneville Power Administration budget shortfall.
The Northwest Power Planning Council ended three days of meetings with a draft conservation budget for Bonneville intended to stretch limited funding for hundreds of fish restoration projects in Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Washington state.
The eight members of the council -- two from each state -- planned to review the draft and add any final comment before giving it to BPA chief Steve Wright.
But council members said they still had many questions about how Bonneville will deal with financial problems resulting mostly from the Western energy crisis in 2001.
Bonneville had planned to spend $186 million a year on salmon restoration and other wildlife programs over its five-year wholesale electricity rate schedule for 2001-06 but Wright told the council last year the agency's conservation budget would have to be trimmed to $139 million.
Northwest Indian tribes, who manage many of the projects, had recommended at least $242 million. The tribes have already called for a full audit of Bonneville's conservation budget, warning that cuts could result in salmon run declines.
"This is a huge mistake on their part," said Tim Weaver, an attorney for the Yakama Tribe.
BPA says its budget shortfall could reach $1.2 billion by 2006. Its problems began in 2001 when prices exploded after drought reduced hydroelectric capacity on Columbia River dams, utility deregulation failed in California and the now-bankrupt Enron Corp. manipulated markets.
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