Protesters Have Lots of Time to Square Offby Wendy Culverwell and Mike Lee
Tri-City Herald, February 18, 2000
Pasco took on an almost carnivallike atmosphere Thursday as hundreds flocked to a Tri-City hearing to tell federal officials how they feel about breaching the four lower Snake River dams.
Public testimony didn't start until early afternoon, which gave protesters from both sides lots of time to wave signs and tour the many information booths set up at the Doubletree Hotel, site of the hearing.
Several hours before, the hotel lobby started filling with people trying to get high on the list of speakers. Some thought it was well organized.
Others wondered about the wisdom of compressing all that energy and emotion into a small area for a long wait. "I find it amazing that fights didn't break out," said Dean Boyer, Washington Farm Bureau spokesman.
Jerry Klemm, a union official from Lewiston-Clarkston, helped organize dam defenders to make sure plenty got on the signup sheet early enough to get their three minutes in front of the microphone. Like many, Klemm thought environmentalists somehow stacked the deck last week at the Clarkston hearing.
"We got crowded out," he said. "We didn't want to have that ... experience repeated here in the Tri-Cities."
In a conference room across the hall, Dick Sherwin from Clarkston offered neon leaflets to anyone who would listen. "We're just the 'Stop the insanity people,' " he said. "We're not against anybody. ... We're just trying to get people to stop and think a little bit."
His signs focused on the "insanity" of harvesting fish in the Columbia River. "We demand fish-friendly nets," one said.
At the next tables over, representatives from the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission and the Save Our Wild Salmon movement entertained protesters to their pro-breaching stance.
"Because of the need for power, we are disregarding whether or not the salmon should continue to survive," said William H. Burke, a ceremonial chief with the Walla Walla tribe. "Salmon is very important to all of us, not just Indian people."
The booth passed out stickers that read "WE NEED SALMON" and "THOSE DAMS DON'T MAKE SENSE."
Three students from Walla Walla's Whitman College wore them on their clothing.
Andrew Ray, a junior anthropology major from McCall, Idaho, said he has fond memories of fishing for salmon with his dad.
"I'm really convinced that (breaching) is the only thing that is going to work. I would like for my children to some day have the opportunity to go salmon fishing with me," he said.
Lena Boesser-Koschmann, a junior studying environmental studies and politics, said she supports breaching the dams because declining fish stocks are hurting her friends who work in the fishing industry back home in southeast Alaska.
"Salmon stocks are lower and lower each year," she said.
Outside the hotel, protesters lined 20th Avenue. American Indians pounded a drum, forcing pedestrians into traffic lanes to get around them. A short distance away, a maintenance crew from Boise Cascade's paper mill in Burbank waved anti-breaching signs at passing cars.
The two groups were civil toward one another, all agreed.
Most cars passed quickly, but a few drivers honked. One passing motorist hit another vehicle at the entrance to Columbia Basin College, apparently because one driver was distracted by the streetside commotion.
Combined, Tom Towers, Todd Gale, Tom Collins and Tim Reisenauer have worked at Boise Cascade for more than 75 years. The company gave them the day off to attend the hearing.
Together, they worry breaching the dams will put the mill out of commission and them out of work.
"If I lost it, there aren't any other jobs in the area. I'm like everyone else, I don't like pounding the pavement," said Reisenauer, a Richland native who lives in Kennewick and spent the morning waving a sign on 20th Avenue.
The men said the mill probably would have to close because without dams, river water would be too silty to use in paper production.
Over at CBC's Workforce Training Center, the Tri-City Area Chamber of Commerce gathered business leaders to sign a statement imploring federal officials to set aside talk of breaching dams and study meaningful salmon recovery measures.
Chamber Director Ann Philip said 77 organizations, agencies and individuals signed at the lunchtime press conference. A copy of the statement, including a blank line where other like-minded dam supporters may sign their names, appeared in Thursday's Tri-City Herald.
Philip said she'd like to see every last one of the newpaper's 41,000-plus subscribers sign the statement and send it to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Walla Walla District office.
Inside the main conference room, about 40 agricultural science students from Pasco High School joined the crowd of more than 800.
Teacher Janae Loeber said her students got to talk to representatives from both sides and see politics in action.
"I think they got a lot of information," she said as the students filed out. They left right after the first few speakers, representing the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, implored the panel to put salmon above economic considerations.
Loeber said her students don't really share that view.
"A lot of them have parents who are farmers," she said.
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