NW Tribes Assail BPA on Salmon Revival Aidby Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, February 15, 2003
A group of 54 Northwest tribes has called for an audit of the Bonneville Power Administration's spending on fish and wildlife programs and demanded that the agency honor its financial commitments to salmon recovery in the Northwest.
Additionally, the tribes called upon the BPA to yield its authority over salmon-spending programs to another agency -- but stopped short of saying what agency that should be.
The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians made the demands in a resolution it unanimously passed Thursday. The tribes acted after BPA officials in December said they wanted to hold 2003 salmon spending to 2002 levels, which they said would mean cutting about $40 million from fish and wildlife restoration efforts recommended by the Northwest Power Planning Council, an agency of four Northwest states.
The BPA, facing a projected deficit of $1.2 billion over the next five years, announced this month that it may raise wholesale electricity rates by 15 percent this fall.
The agency, said Don Sampson, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, must not cut back on efforts to aid salmon. "There is a huge investment on the line here," said Sampson, which represents four tribes with salmon-fishing treaty rights. "The tribes aren't going to allow that investment to go without a fight."
The resolution means the tribal dissatisfaction with the BPA's proposal, until now expressed most strongly by four lower Columbia River tribes with treaty rights to salmon, has spread across the Northwest. It spells trouble for the BPA, because the region's tribes play a vital role in salmon recovery, which the BPA is required by law to support.
Sampson wrote the resolution and brought it before about 200 tribal leaders who met Monday through Thursday at the Embassy Suites Portland Airport Hotel in Portland. He pledged to bring a similar resolution before the National Congress of American Indians, which meets later this month in Washington, D.C. He predicted the resolution will pass in the nation's capital and said it will lead to national pressure for the BPA to protect spending on salmon.
A BPA spokesman defended his agency Friday and said it had no plans to conduct additional audits. "Our books are totally open, and we feel very confident with our numbers," said Mike Hansen.
Agency officials say the BPA is in trouble because of rising expenses and a projected low river flows brought by low snowpacks this winter. The BPA, a federal agency, markets electricity generated by federal dams in the Columbia River Basin.
"Everybody in the entire region is being asked to help during this financial crisis that Bonneville is in," Hansen said. "We aren't asking any more of the fish community then we are asking of anyone else."
The Northwest Power Planning Council held an emergency meeting in Portland on Thursday to discuss the BPA's request that the council trim programs. The council, an agency of the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana, recommends salmon-recovery measures that are then funded by the BPA.
Council staffers told council members that their analysis found the BPA has enough money to fund salmon programs if it used capital borrowing authority to finance about $20 million in land purchases recommended by the council.
The resolution passed by the tribes said the BPA's decision-making authority over salmon restoration programs should be transferred to another agency, which it did not name.
"BPA has required . . . fish and wildlife managers to reduce their budgets drastically, while BPA has increased its own budget to pay for non-essential personnel, property and services," the resolution said.
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