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Wednesday, August 5, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Big crowd turns out in Spokane to talk about Lower Snake River dams

Bryan Jones is a Whitman County wheat grower who ships his grain to Portland by barge.

He’s not against breaching the four Lower Snake River dams if cost-effective alternatives can be found for getting his crops to market. It’s an issue that Jones, an angler, feels so strongly about that he spoke at a pro-salmon rally Monday at Riverfront Park.

“I know there are solutions out there,” Jones told the crowd. “Free the Snake. Save the salmon, but keep the farmers whole.”

Jones was a moderate voice in an often polarized discussion over the dams that took place Monday in Spokane.

More than 200 people turned out at the Davenport Hotel for an open house on Columbia-Snake River dam operations. Federal agencies are gathering public comments as they prepare a new environmental review of the system’s impact on salmon and steelhead.

The review was ordered by a federal judge in May, who said federal agencies had “done their utmost” to avoid considering breaching the Lower Snake dams, and suggested that a proper review under federal law could require that analysis.

Pro-salmon groups say removing the four Lower Snake dams is one of the most important actions needed to help wild salmon and steelhead runs. The dams impede access to thousands of miles of wilderness streams – habitat that will help salmon survive as the climate warms, they say.

The government is overdue for a true cost-benefit analysis of the dams, which produce about 5 percent of the Northwest’s electricity, said Harvey Morrison, a member of the Spokane Falls chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Economics was also on the mind of Alex McGregor, president of McGregor Co., an agricultural chemical and equipment company based in Colfax. About 60 percent of Washington’s wheat and barley is shipped by river. The dams’ reservoirs allow barge shipments on the Lower Snake, providing an alternative to rail shipments.

“I think we’ve made so much progress at finding ways to improve fish survival,” McGregor said.

Taking out the dams would create challenges for farm families, said Les Wigen, a retired Whitman County commissioner.

“The Snake River is our Interstate 5 corridor to Eastern Washington,” he said.

Stevens County Commissioner Wes McCart was also at Monday’s meeting. Changes in dam operations on the Snake River have the potential to affect the Upper Columbia River, where Stevens County has a long shoreline, he said.

“If they breach the four Lower Snake dams, what does that do to our power production?” McCart said.

Even modest fluctuations in the price of power will affect rural communities’ ability to recruit manufacturing businesses, he said.

Monday’s meeting has been one of the best attended of 15 meetings held around the region, said David Wilson, a Bonneville Power spokesman. About 40 people were lined up before the doors opened.

Another meeting takes place from 4-7 p.m. Wednesday at the Red Lion Inn in Lewiston.

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