Friday, February 27, 2015
By Chris Carlson
To breach or not to breach the four lower Snake River dams is again being discussed across the region, thanks, in no small part, to an excellent front page article in a recent Sunday edition of the Lewiston Tribune written by Eric Barker.
Thanks, in no small part, also to Jim Waddell, a longtime civilian employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, now retired, who skillfully took a part in earlier corps economic studies attempting to validate the thesis that it would be more expensive to breach the dams than to keep them running.
That just did not pass the common-sense test for Waddell. So after he retired from the corps as a deputy district engineer, he sank his teeth into a hard-nosed analysis of claims made by the corps. To say he found skewed assumptions, ignored issues and cooked numbers would be seriously understating what he unearthed.
Allow me a chortle or two. Two years ago I published my second book, "Medimont Reflections," which contained 13 essays on other issues and other people I had worked with during my almost 40 years of public-sector involvement.
Two of the essays should have generated some controversy inasmuch as they dealt with the four lower Snake dams and with the Northwest Power Planning Council, of which I was Idaho's first appointee and sat for almost a year.
In the essays, I called for the dams to be breached and the council to be abolished. One would think a former member of the council calling for its abolishment and for breaching the four dams would have made the news, wouldn't you? Nope. Both comments sank with nary a surface ripple into the sea of indifference the smug and the ignorant can convey. Those arrogant few who knew and understood the hieroglyphics of power and energy production curves just sat back and smiled.
After all, old Carlson was not an economist, nor was he an engineer. They thought they could safely ignore me and, at least up to now, they have been correct.
One current council member flat told me that the council and most Bonneville Power Administration engineers had decided not dignifying my thoughtful analysis with a comment would ensure no coverage.
Take a look, if you get the chance sometime, at the BPA budget for public relations, public affairs, community relations and the various other names for flackery. Add to it the PR budget for the Army Corps of Engineers, the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association and the power council itself - not to mention state energy offices - and you'll get the picture of what the Save Our Wild Salmon people like Pat Ford, as well as Linwood Laughy and Ed Chaney, have had arrayed against them for years.
Now, however, Waddell comes along. Once one of their own, he knows the numbers inside and out. He is not easily dismissed. So what's the response of the corps? Another form of "let's just ignore him and his analysis."
Thus one hears the gobbledygook of "our mission is not to analyze past data, our mission is to do what Congress tells us to do, to look forward not backward," or some version of this.
This head-in-the-sand approach is a sure prescription for letting nature drive the issue, particularly around Lewiston, as it will get harder and harder for the corps to keep dredging a channel for a port that is continuing to lose money.
To those who say Congress will never appropriate the money to breach the dams, I say: "You're correct."
But Congress doesn't have to do anything except maybe authorize the sale of the entire BPA system of dams to the four states represented on the power council.
And then the four governors should put Waddell in charge.
I bet all us ratepayers would like the results. Keep up the good work, Jim.
Carlson is a retired journalist who served as press secretary to former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Medimont in Kootenai County.