Environmental groups want work halted on Snake River dams

AP News
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Posted: Jan 10, 2017 3:22 PM

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Environmental groups are asking a federal court to halt 11 infrastructure projects on four lower Snake River dams in Washington state that could ultimately be removed if a pending review determines the dams need to come out to help salmon.

The 45-page notice filed late Monday in Portland, Oregon, estimates the cost of the projects at $110 million.

The National Wildlife Federation and the other groups in a separate, 29-page filing also late Monday asked that the federal government be ordered to spill more water in the spring over the four Snake River dams and four more on the Columbia River to help migrating salmon.

A federal judge ruled in May that the U.S. government hasn't done enough to improve Northwest salmon runs and ordered an environmental impact statement that's due out in 2021, urging officials to consider removing the dams.

The environmental groups contend that infrastructure improvements shouldn't be allowed at the dams during the review.

"These kinds of investments should be suspended to ensure a level playing field for all of the alternatives agencies must consider, including the alternative of lower Snake River dam removal," Kevin Lewis of Idaho Rivers United said in a statement.

The review process is being conducted under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, an umbrella law that covers the Endangered Species Act. Thirteen species of salmon and steelhead on the Columbia and Snake rivers have been listed as federally protected over the past 25 years. Four of the listed species are found in Idaho.

The Snake River dams cited in the documents are Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite. They're the four lowest dams on the 1,000-mile-long Snake River, itself a tributary to the Columbia River.

The four dams are managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and were built in the 1960s and 1970s.

Scott Lawrence, a Seattle-based spokesman for the federal agency, didn't return a call from The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Northwest River Partners, which represents a coalition of businesses and river users and has intervened on the side of the federal government, is against removing the dams.

"We need to keep investing in critical infrastructure like the Snake River dams," said Terry Flores, director of the Portland-based group. "We need to keep them well maintained so we can keep the lights on and keep people safe and warm, and the economy running."

The $110 million listed in the document filed Monday is an estimate by the environmental groups that said the Army Corps of Engineers declined to provide precise numbers. The groups say more than half of the money is being spent on Ice Harbor Dam and includes new turbine blades.

"The Corps is continuing to commit major capital resources to restoring and extending the useful life of the four lower Snake River dams without hesitation or pause," the court document states.

The groups say the expenditures could be used to argue the dams shouldn't be removed.