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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Yakamas abandon challenge to dams

Associated Press

WENATCHEE – The Yakama Nation has abandoned its legal challenge of the proposed 50-year habitat conservation plans for three Columbia River dams.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates hydropower dams, approved the plans for Rock Island, Rocky Reach and Wells dams last June. The approval was one step in the relicensing process for the three dams.

In January, the tribes asked the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to review the federal agency’s approval.

The Yakamas wanted more say concerning dam operations that can harm fish. They also have argued that the habitat plans wrongfully allow for some reduction in salmon production at hatcheries, and do not mitigate the loss of coho salmon through the dams.

The Tribal Council, however, last week authorized Yakama Nation Chairman Jerry Meninick to sign off on the three plans.

“The Yakama Nation has decided that their interests will better be served by asserting their role in the (habitat conservation plan) process than by spending several more years in litigation,” said Tim Weaver, an attorney for the tribes.

He said the tribes are particularly interested in helping to determine the amount of water spilled through the dam, the species of fish raised in hatcheries, and what habitat restoration work should be done.

“This is a big step toward developing a relationship with the Yakamas and saving salmon in the Columbia River,” said Tracy Yount, director of environmental affairs for the Chelan County Public Utility District, which owns Rock Island and Rocky Reach dams.

The Douglas County Public Utility District owns Wells Dam.

In addition to the utilities, the Colville Confederated Tribes, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA Fisheries and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife already had signed off on the plans.

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