Judge raises concerns over Columbia salmon plan

AP News
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Posted: Nov 17, 2009 10:57 AM

The federal judge overseeing the balancing act between salmon and Columbia Basin dams said he doesn't think he can consider new steps the Obama administration wants to take.

In a letter on Friday to lawyers in the case, U.S. District Judge James Redden wrote he was concerned that federal law prohibits him from considering any of the new parts of the 2008 plan.

The reason he cited is they were developed unilaterally by the federal government, and not, as he had suggested, in conjunction with the other parties involved in the lawsuit challenging federal plans for protecting salmon.

Redden has scheduled a hearing for Monday in U.S. District Court in Portland. It is likely to be the last gathering before he rules on whether a 2008 plan for restoring salmon struggling to survive the obstacles created by hydroelectric dams in the Columbia Basin meets the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.

"We will obviously address the issues the judge raises at the hearing on Monday," said spokesman Brian Gorman with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service.

The Obama administration added a section called the Adaptive Management Implementation Plan to the biological opinion offered last year by the Bush administration.

The additions call for more research and monitoring, new minimums for salmon populations that would trigger more aggressive conservation measures, and a fallback plan of breaching four dams on the lower Snake River in Washington if all else fails.

Redden added that his letter last May to parties in the lawsuit did not invite them to go around the law to bolster the 2008 biological opinion, but instead invited all parties to get together to make the plan better.

"It is difficult to see how Federal Defendants' unilateral development of additional mitigation actions and contingency measures can be characterized as an 'explanation,'" the judge wrote.

The judge said he will send another letter this week with questions to guide the attorneys' discussion on other issues.