GRANGEVILLE — Saying they are “completely mystified” by Congressman Mike Simpson’s proposal to breach the four lower Snake River dams, the Idaho County commissioners Tuesday sent a strongly worded letter to the lawmaker rejecting the plan.
“For someone representing the citizens of Idaho,” the commissioners’ missive says, “you appear completely out of touch with the importance of agriculture to the economic stability of our state. Of course, you don’t represent north Idaho. The people most impacted by this proposal can’t express their disapproval by electing someone new. Still, it’s perplexing and disappointing that a true Idahoan would consider sacrificing the transportation pipeline that is so critical in getting goods to market — goods that represent jobs and stability for families in Idaho and eastern Washington alike.”
The letter — signed by the three commissioners, Chairman R. Skipper Brandt; Ted Lindsley and Denis B. Duman — was drafted at the request of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, headquartered in Boise.
The Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization, strongly opposes Simpson’s plan, saying that the dams “are the lifeblood of agriculture in Idaho, Washington, Montana and Oregon” and that removing them “would make the Columbia-Snake River system unnavigable for barges that move wheat, barley and other products to Portland for export.”
On its website Friday, the Farm Bureau posted an opinion by Idaho Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, assailing Simpson’s proposal.
“It has taken me a moment to come up with words that are print-approved after learning that Congressman Mike Simpson is spewing rhetoric to remove dams in the northwest,” Crabtree wrote.
“I am a firm believer that our dams are needed and provide an asset to Idahohoans,” Crabtree wrote, while noting the unreliability of other energy sources. “And for a state like ours, where winter is real, imagine the threats we would be facing and the fight for electricity. We have an abundance of clean, reliable and dependable power because we have hydroelectricity.
“If we follow the plan Congressman Simpson so proudly touts,” Crabtree continued, “we will lose millions of megawatts of power — to save a fish that he can’t guarantee will survive.”
Seth Grigg, executive director of the Idaho Association of Counties, also wrote to Simpson opposing dam breaching.
“The pandemic has made us acutely aware of the importance of stable jobs,” Grigg wrote. “Industries that rely on the Port of Lewiston require access to the port. Any salmon recovery plan that fails to consider the support the Port of Lewiston provides to Idaho farmers, manufacturers, and families will have a devastating impact on Idaho. A check from the federal government cannot make up for the emotional and societal effects of losing a job. Any effort to recover salmon must ensure Idahoans can continue to make a living in the industries that make Idaho such a great state.”
The commissioners noted in their letter the “importance of renewable energy to meet the growing demands for electricity. The dams along the lower Snake River provide this energy and, again, jobs. While we acknowledge the benefits of recreational fishing and generally support salmon recovery efforts these should not be a priority over people.”
Brandt said the board has heard from a number of citizens in Idaho County about this proposal and the overwhelming sentiment rejects the dam breaching proposal. He added that the community of Riggins likely would be the main exception because the town’s economy is based on sport fishing and ocean salmon runs.
“If we’re really concerned about fish going extinct,” Brandt said, “quit fishing for them. ... Common-sense Americans are going to say that breaching those dams is wrong.”
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