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Economic and dam related articles

The Prosperity Slackwater Never Delivered

by Marty Trillhaase
Lewiston Tribune, February 14, 2010

Thirty-five years ago Monday, slackwater arrived in Lewiston.

As the reservoir behind Lower Granite Dam filled, the last of four man-made pools provided Lewiston with the year-round navigation to the Pacific Ocean it sought literally for a century.

This was to be Lewiston's second boom, something the community had been anticipating ever since the gold ran out.

So promised Herbert West and the Inland Empire Waterways Association, who lobbied for the projects from the New Deal to the Great Society.

"Build the dams, Herbert West said, and development will follow," wrote Keith C. Petersen of Pullman in his 1995 work, "River of Life, Channel of Death." "Build, and the Snake River will become a lifeline to one of the world's richest agricultural regions. ... New industries will rise. Population will escalate."

So promised the Army Corps of Engineers, which, according to Petersen's account, predicted " 'significant industrial growth,' 'far-reaching ramifications [on] the economy,' and 'a large quantity of newcomers' to the Lewiston Valley."

So promised the politicians, who formally dedicated the new project a few months later.

"The naysayers said it couldn't be done, shouldn't be done and wouldn't be done," said U.S. Sen. Warren Magnuson, D-Wash. "But over 35 years ago, we planned for the future and during all the years since that time, we have all worked together. And now today we can stand here in Lewiston - over 400 miles from Bonneville where it all began in 1933 - and we can tell the naysayers that we have succeeded where they said we would fail."

It was an ambiguous pledge. Maybe it portended new manufacturing. Perhaps tourism. More businesses. New schools. Certainly everybody saw more money in their pockets.

And 35 years later, the region is still waiting for a boom that never materialized.

At least not here.

Since slackwater arrived, Nez Perce County's population has grown 28 percent to 38,975.

In terms of the number of jobs, the Lewiston-Clarkston area has picked up 61 percent in the last 35 years.

Idaho's job base grew 128 percent during the same period.

The valley's job growth lagged behind Boise (195 percent), Coeur d'Alene (351 percent), Idaho Falls (110 percent) and Moscow (72 percent).

In terms of payrolls it's the same story - modest expansion here, phenomenal growth elsewhere.

On this date in 1975, the Lewiston-Clarkston area generated $154 million in wages. Today, that's up 513 percent to $792.5 million.

Slackwater provided competition to railroad and trucking. With it came ports at Lewiston, Clarkston and Wilma. Navigation shored up the industries already here, such as agriculture, timber, pulp and paper.

But envisioned new opportunities, economic diversity and a bonanza of growth? If this was what you anticipated on 15th of February long ago when the Snake River was transformed, you never found it.

Marty Trillhaase
The Prosperity Slackwater Never Delivered
Lewiston Tribune, February 14, 2010

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