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Revisit 'trap and haul'.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Eugene Water & Electric Board President Sandra Bishop swam alone against the current last Tuesday with her surprise vote against a resolution authorizing the utility to proceed with efforts to secure a new federal license for the Carmen-Smith Hydroelectric Project on the upper McKenzie River.

The resolution passed by a 4-1 vote, but Bishop's fellow board members should give serious consideration to the 10-year board veteran's opposition. They should also address her well-founded concerns before the Nov. 30 deadline for submitting a final license application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Bishop opposed the resolution because of the EWEB staff's last-minute decision to propose trapping and hauling threatened fish around its Trail Bridge Dam rather than building a more expensive fish ladder as previously proposed.

EWEB's decision on upstream fish passage could have profound and unpleasant ramifications for the river's threatened chinook salmon and bull trout. As a coalition of six environmental organizations noted in a recent letter to EWEB, trap-and-haul systems can delay the movement of fish upstream and increase the risk of stress, injury and death to fish. Studies also have shown that trap-and-haul fish have lower rates of the critical genetic imprinting that enables them to return to spawning grounds.

The timing of EWEB's change also is disturbing, occurring after the deadline for public comment on the draft application for a new federal license had expired. That has prevented environmental groups, Indian tribes, state agencies and other groups from conducting any substantive analysis of EWEB's proposal - or weighing it against alternatives.

EWEB officials have attributed the switch to two primary factors: projections that building a fish ladder could cost more than $20 million, and fears that construction of a fish ladder through the existing earthen dam could raise safety concerns.

Those may well be legitimate worries, but they, along with the utility's sketchy trap-and-haul proposal, have yet to be thoroughly analyzed and assessed by state and federal wildlife officials, environmental groups and other interested parties.

Federal officials, who recently met with EWEB officials to discuss the change, already have made their concerns known. "We do not think trap and haul is the solution here - we think a fish ladder is feasible and reasonable. We don't prefer it, and the fish don't prefer it," said Stephanie Burchfield, a fish biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service. At Tuesday's meeting, state fish biologist Jeff Ziller called the switch to a trap-and-haul model a "bombshell" to fish and forest agencies, which have unanimously supported the fish-ladder approach.

Some of Bishop's fellow board members explained their vote in favor of the relicensing resolution by saying they're focused on meeting a Nov. 30 license application deadline and can revisit the decision on fish access after the final application is filed.

That's a convenient but dangerous rationalization. Decisions approved early in bureaucratic processes often are decisions that become too costly and inconvenient to reverse down the line. EWEB customers - and the McKenzie's endangered salmon - deserve better consideration.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; EWEB's switch on dam relicensing is disturbing
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Oct 29, 2006
Previous Article:Limiting Oregon's future.
Next Article:Measure asks: To notify or not?

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