Warning Precedes Hydro Dam Hearingby Michael Milstein
The Oregonian, June 20, 2007
Salmon - The judge is weighing Columbia River dams against the fate of protected fish
The federal judge who has twice thrown out federal proposals to keep Columbia River hydroelectric dams operating even as they kill protected salmon is not very impressed by the government's third attempt.
In a letter to attorneys ahead of a hearing set for today, U.S. District Judge James Redden said that at best, the latest federal strategy to restore Columbia salmon is not much better than the last one -- which he rejected.
At worst, he said, it's a step backwards from more recent actions he has mandated to help more young salmon make it past the dams without getting thrashed by turbines.
Redden is overseeing a landmark case weighing the future of the Columbia dams, a critical source of power, against the fate of imperiled salmon, which number only a small fraction of their historic population.
He has increasingly held the federal government's feet to the fire, saying he will not tolerate another botched attempt to bring back salmon as the Endangered Species Act requires.
In his letter, he said he is again concerned that the government's newest proposal relies on actions such as habitat restoration that are not certain to happen. He outlined questions that attorneys should be ready to address today.
For example, he said the government's newest proposal depends on further research, negotiations and funding.
"How can these measures be characterized as reasonably certain to occur?" he asked.
The judge said he recognizes it's up to the federal government to draw up the salmon strategy, leading to a document known as a biological opinion. But he said that federal officials will have to defend it.
"To avoid yet another series of mistakes that may doom another biological opinion, it makes sense for federal defendants to begin to fully discuss and disclose the substance of their deliberations," Redden wrote.
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