Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Victoria Fowler
Gazette Reporter 

River system study open for comment


Little Goose Dam on the Snake River is one of the dams up for consideration to be breached. A recent federal reports rejects the idea of removing Snake and Columbia river dams.

On Feb. 28, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration released the Columbia River System draft Environmental Impact Study.

Now that the EIS has been made available, it is open for a 45-day public review and comment period. The open comment period will close April 13.

On Monday at the Whitman County Commissioner Board meeting, Commissioner Dean Kinzer encouraged those in attendance, if they feel compelled, to submit comments on the study.

The draft EIS rejects dam breaching, stating the approach of breaching the dams would destabilize the power grid and increase overall greenhouse emissions.

With the open comment period, the Port of Whitman County encourages residents to make their voices heard.

"It has been 18 years since the last time we had this opportunity," said Joe Poire, Port executive director, in a press release. "These opportunities are rare and should not be wasted. As people from all over the nation weigh in on this document with their interests, we who live at ground zero have this same opportunity."

In the Port press release, it states that the Port believes the preferred alternative identified in the draft EIS rightly avoids the extreme measure of dam breaching.

A Pacific Northwest Waterways Association study stated that the removal of the Lower Snake River Dams would cost the country $2.3 billion over the next 30 years.

According to the press release from the Port, the loss of barging would be detrimental to Whitman County and its reputation as the nation's leading producer of wheat.

"The Columbia-Snake Navigation System is an important component of the regional economy. Between 50 and 60 million tons of cargo are transported each year on barges that can navigate the lower Snake River," stated the draft EIS. "Cruise line operators also use the system for tourism, which is a growing business on the Columbia and Snake rivers."

The PNWA study also added that removing the Snake River locks would cause diesel fuel consumption to increase by nearly five million gallons per year.

Shifting from barge to truck and rail will result in the increase in CO2 emissions by more than 1,251,000 tons per year, according to the study.

"River navigation produces the most energy-efficient, low-carbon emission transportation system in the nation," Poire said in the press release. "It is human nature for people to take for granted the low-cost, clean energy that hydropower produces while demanding there be no impact."

The Port stated that more than 1,100 farms risk bankruptcy if the federal government does not increase farm subsidies. With wheat prices already down near the break-even point, annual direct payments to farmers would need a boost of $38.8 million to maintain current income levels.

Outside of just agricultural impact, the draft EIS states that breaching the dams could contribute to region-wide blackouts, without the 14 federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

"Built and put into service between 1938 and 1976, these dams provide valuable social and economic benefits to the region by providing flood risk management to reduce the risk to lives, property and infrastructure during flood events," stated the draft EIS.

The first public comment meeting is March 17 in Lewiston at the Red Lion Hotel, 621 21st St. Doors to the event will open at 4 p.m. and the event will run from 4 to 8 p.m. There will be six total public comment meetings. Other meetings will be held in Kennewick, March 18; Seattle, March 19; Spokane, March 25; Kalispell, Mont., March 26, and Portland, Ore., March 31.

"I hope when people from other parts of the country read this report it helps them understand why people in the region feel so strongly about retaining this river system," Poire stated.

The draft EIS can be found online at crso.info. Public comments can also be submitted through crso.info or mailed, postmarked by April 13, to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, CRSO EIS P.O. Box 2870, Portland OR 97208-2870.


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