By Kimberlee Kruesi, Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho gubernatorial candidate Tommy Ahlquist's campaign said Friday the Republican businessman has always been against breaching dams along the Snake River despite not stating that position when asked at a recent sportsmen's forum.
In an opinion piece published earlier this week, Ahlquist said he would fight to protect Idaho's waters for farmers, ranchers and dairymen.
"And while I will work with all stakeholders and listen to all ideas and concerns, I do not support bad ideas like breaching dams or proposals that aren't in Idaho's best interest," Ahlquist wrote.
Just two weeks prior, however, Ahlquist told a group of wildlife advocates that he was open to looking at the idea of breaching dams - allowing free flow of the river - when asked by the moderator.
"I think it's something to be looked at. (The current system) is not working right now," Ahlquist said when pressed if he supported either breaching dams or considering the option.
Ahlquist was participating in a gubernatorial candidate forum with Republican Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Democratic candidate A.J. Balukoff. It was hosted by 18 wildlife and sportsman groups, many of which have supported breaching dams in the past.
Balukoff said he would consider breaching dams, and Little said he was opposed. U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, who is also running as a Republican for governor in 2018, did not attend the event, but his campaign website says he's opposed to dam breaching.
"Tommy has always been opposed to the idea of breaching dams and has stated that both publicly and privately throughout the campaign," said campaign manager David Johnston in a statement. "In this specific instance, Tommy was simply answering the question that he was open to input and ideas from all stakeholders and unintentionally didn't explicitly restate his opposition to the idea of breaching dams."
Four dams in eastern Washington have long been blamed for reducing the production of wild salmon and steelhead runs on the Columbia and Snake river system. Breaching dams would require creating an opening or breakthrough of some sort to restore the free flow of the river.
A bipartisan bill has since been introduced in Congress seeking to prevent breaching of those four dams and keep the current Federal Columbia River Biological Opinion until 2022. The opinion is designed to protect salmon while continuing to operate the dams. However, a federal judge has ruled that the biological opinion doesn't do enough.
Meanwhile, in Idaho, the dams create vast reservoirs that make it possible for Lewiston, 450 miles (724 kilometers) from the Pacific Ocean, to operate as the farthest inland seaport on the West Coast. Farmers, shipping companies and other dam supporters have aggressively defended the structures as key players in the region's economy.
Ahlquist is running for the state's top political office for the first time after three-term Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter announced he wouldn't seek re-election in 2018.
The GOP primary will take place in May.