"It Takes All Kinds to Oppose Breaching" by Melissa O'Neil,
Herald staff writer, and "Thousands Rally to Save Snake Dams"
by Mile Lee and Kim Bradford, Herald staff writers, February 19, 1999. Courtesy
of Tri-City Herald.
IT TAKES ALL KINDS TO OPPOSE BREACHING
Mid-Columbians worried about the future of their electricity, farming transportation and jobs rallied Thursday on the cable bridge.
But Mike Wingfield didn't want state officials to forget how recreation might be affected if the four dams on the lower Snake River are torn down. He carried a sign reading, "Keep dammed rivers, lose damned nets" on one side and "Duck hunters4dams" on the other.
I came out to protect hunting and water-skiing," the Richland man said, "There are a lot of big issues...but we don't want them to overlook the things that are important to me and my kids."
Wingfield, his wife, Linda, son Hunter, 15, and daughter Michelle, 8, were among about 3,000 people at the Save Our Dams rally put on by Tri-City business and labor leaders. Organizers hoped three times as many people would show up.
Still folks from all walks of life and from throughout Eastern Washington-from Wenatchee to Walla Walla-braved the chilly evening and occasional rain for 1.5 hours of speeches.
Business people, union workers, farmers and families formed a compact crowd over the middle of the Columbia River. They put hands over hearts during the national anthem. They cheered when a speaker noted people dining at downtown Seattle's Space Needle eat asparagus grown in the Mid-Columbia. And they "oohed" and "booed" at mentions of the federal officials and agencies who advocate breaching the dams as the best way to restore federally protected fish runs.
Some carried signs, like "No dams=no jobs," "It's the overfishing, stupid" and "No dams, no water, no grapes, eat raisins."
About two dozen boats floated near the bridge, blaring their horns after some speakers' comments. Sales of Save Our Dams T-shirts, baseball caps and buttons were hot, as was business at the Espresso Magic coffee vending truck. People gathered signatures for anti-breaching and anti-gill netting petitions, and the John Birch Society handed out blue fliers pitching a return to constitutional government.
A handful of young people carried "Save the salmon, kill the dams" signs, but there was no outspoken protest. Police declared the rally peaceful and problem-free.
But there was some tension leading up to the event. A Spokane newspaper asked Pasco school Superintendent George Murdock whether it was appropriate to have a school band playing at a political rally.
Murdock, one of several district officials at the after-school event, said he didn't consider it political.
"This is an economic rally, and the future of our school district is closely linked to the future of Pasco," Murdock said. He said the student musicians volunteered and seemed to understand the possible effect dam breaching could have on their lives.
Bob Anderson of Kennewick sees the bigger picture. He's an engineer on the Umatilla prison construction project.
"Without the dams, we'd lose an investment we all own," Anderson said, referring [to] the tax money spent to build the four dams. "They're an economic asset that we don't appreciate."
Some participants pointed out being pro-dam doesn't mean anti-salmon.
Pasco High senior Duan Nguyen came to the rally with his sister, Duyer, a freshman. "I'd like them to spend money on equipment to help the salmon," Duan said. "They could find better ways around the problem."
Scott English of Benton City carried his daughter 2-year old Shelby, on his shoulders. He buys and sells about 50,000 tons of hay each year.
"Without dams and irrigation on farm ground, I have no business," English said. "To me, this whole proposal seems ridiculous."
Don Pittman and his wife, Corleen, brought metal folding chairs from their home in Dayton. They've studied the dam breaching issue and remember 40 years back to a time before the Snake River dams when sagebrush was the main vegetation.
"People used to come to the Tri-Cities to shoot rabits," Corleen Pittman said. "Irrigation and electricity have made a difference in the economy. This is an opportunity for us to feed our nation.
"We've seen the flooding, we have pictures from it. We don't want it returned to when there was flooding," she said, explaining one of the many reasons she opposes breaching the dams. "It's destroying the Northwest."
THOUSANDS RALLY TO SAVE SNAKE RIVER DAMS
"We will save our dams." the Mid-Columbia roared Thursday night.
As federal agencies prepare a report on the future of the Snake River dams, the region said with as much force as it could muster that the dams mustn't go-not for what many see as the dubious prospects of recovering salmon.
"We are not going to allow a few Seattle ultraliberal environmental zealots to destroy what took generations to build." said state Sen. Dan McDonald, R-Bellevue.
The rally-designed to show support for what master of ceremonies Porky Thomsen dubbed "some good concrete"-solified the dams as a statewide asset that politicians will fight for tooth and nail.
"If we turn you into a desert, we turn us into a desert," said Sen. Marilyn Rasmussen. D-Eatonville "Our economy depends on your economy."
Mcdonald promised Mid-Columbians won't be alone when they fight to save their way of life supported by the dams. "We will be with you there in Washington, D.C., if we must," he promised. "Saving the dams is not your fight. It's all of our fight."
He was joined on the windswept podium by about 100 rain-soaked legislators, mayors, business representatives, labor leaders and county officials from around the state. About 3,000 people from all over the region braved the elements hoping their presence somehow would send a message to Washington D.C., to find another way to protect salmon.
"We are saving dams here tonight," cried Thomsen, who farms east of Pasco. "Our voice is going to be heard all over the world."
"If you allow the breaching of these dams, you rip the heart out of this state," said Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business.
The National Marine Fisheries Service and the Army Corps of Engineers are studying the best ways to rebuild endangered Columbia-Snake salmon and steelhead runs. One of the options is to return the lower Snake river to "natural" conditions by taking out the dams. The agencies also are looking at a variety of technological fixes to keep improving fish passage at the dams.
A few in the crowd wanted to see the dams go. "We are not going to have dams and salmon together here," said Scott Bosse, conservation scientist with Idaho Rivers United, which is spearheading an anti-dam movement on the Snake River as best way to restore wild salmon and steelhead.
He brought a vastly different view of the economic effects of breaching, as well. "A decade from now, people living here...really wouldn't know the difference if the lower Snake dams were gone," he said.
Steve Appel, president of the state Farm Bureau, took another stance. "Save the dams so we don't become the next endangered species by having our habitat destroyed," he said from the podium.
About a quarter of the state Legislature boarded loaned private planes Thursday night at Olympia's airport to attend the rally. The Oregon and Idaho legislatures also stamped their approval on the dams with resolutions to the Clinton administration that the dams should stay, Thomsen announced.
The Washington House of Representatives postponed afternoon business to allow lawmakers to attend, and several senators excused themselves from committee hearings early to make the trip.
"In case you don't understand the urgency of this, think about this: The bulldozers are coming," said Rep. Shirley Hankins, R-Richland. "The gun is at our heads, and we need to act right now before they pull the trigger."
Sen. Pat Hale, R-Kennewick, said historians she consulted could not remember another time a large group of lawmakers left the capital in midsession to attend a single event elsewhere.
Rasumssen, a dairy farmer, said she'd still be milking cows by hand if it wasn't for hydropower.
And Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, whose district was flattened by federal protection of the northern spotted owl, said, "We believe we are one Washington and everyone deserves a good job and a good quality of life. We believe your communities deserve to stay intact."
Concern for dams runs deeper than the lower Snake River-itself the source of hydropower, navigable slack water, irrigation water and recreation.
"If they take out the lower Snake dams, John Day is next and McNary is next," Thomsen roared. "I tell you, my friends, enough is enough."
Appel expressed the skepticism many seemed to feel about the state of salmon in the Northwest. "I am not convinced we have a salmon problem," he said. "If we really have a fish problem, why is this one of the only rivers in North America where it is still legal to use gill nets to fish for salmon?"
"Stop the killing," he continued. "It's the easiest to way to protect an endangered animal."
And the divide between federal bureaucrats and Northwest residents never appeared wider. "That other Washington doesn't understand us in this Washington," said U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash. "We need to send a message that's simple enough for even bureaucrats to understand."
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt-who has an admitted propensity for breaching dams-took countless barbs from the speakers and the crowd, as did Vice President Al Gore.
"If rallies like this don't make Bruce Babbitt and his friends think twice about tearing down dams, nothing will," Hastings said. "I can tell you as a member of Congress that Bruce Babbitt will not get approval on my watch."
U.S Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., and a representative of Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., echoed the sentiments.
But it took a Burbank teen to put the dam breaching and salmon restoration into perspective. "It will take 48 years before they know if this is going to work (for fish)," said Columbia High School senior Kelly Cos. "That means I will be 66 years old."
"I don't think we need this multi-million dollar mistake."