‘Risky proposition.’ Can $33 billion make up for loss of Snake River dams? Tri-Cities groups leery
A new proposal to tear down the four Lower Snake River dams has people agreeing on one thing — the dams’ value to the Northwest region.
But many of those who rely on the dams now — to produce low-cost and reliable electricity, to barge farm products for export, to provide irrigation water and for recreation — are dubious despite the plan’s attempts to make them economically whole.
U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho has proposed breaching the dams and spending $33 billion to dismantle them, build new energy and transportation systems and address the economic impacts of their loss.
It’s the only way the conservative Republican sees to boost the declining population of certain species of salmon in Idaho that must make a 900-mile journey to and from the Pacific Ocean, navigating at least eight hydroelectric dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers.
The Tri-Cities along with the Lewiston-Clarkston area are the two metro areas with the most to lose if the dams are breached.
“We appreciate that Rep. Simpson’s concept attempts to address the wide array of negative impacts that would come from removing the dams, but at the end of the day dam removal is simply not good public policy,” said David Reeploeg, vice president for federal programs for the Tri-City Development Council.
That is even though TRIDEC would receive $75 million to be spent on local economic development.
“There is no certainty that removing the dams would result in significantly better fish numbers, but we do know for certain that it would hurt communities and industries throughout the Pacific Northwest,” Reeploeg said.
Groups and business interests that have fought for more than two decades to keep the Lower Snake River dams aren’t willing to let them go now, particularly when the Northwest may be facing power generation and reliability issues even without the loss of the dams.
But some long-time supporters of keeping the lower Snake River dams are open to at least listening to what Simpson has to say and see if he wins the backing of the rest of the Northwest Congressional delegation to move forward.
Congressional support was not off to a strong start.