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Salmon hopes dwindle amid rhetoric

PORTLAND, Ore. - In one breath, U.S. District Judge James Redden called the
federal government's plan to save Columbia River salmon an exercise "more
in cynicism than in sincerity."

In the next, Bob Lohn, regional administrator for the National Marine
Fisheries Service - the federal agency theoretically responsible for the
salmon - said the government might be forced to resort to the "God Squad,"
an endangered species committee that is only called upon in extremely
controversial situations to decide if federal projects should take
precedence over animals or plants listed under the Endangered Species Act.

At issue, as usual, is water in the Columbia River - what goes through the
dams for power production and what gets spilled to usher young salmon
through the river's gauntlet to the ocean. And once again, Bonneville Power
is waving its money flag.

The for-profit federal agency says spilling water per the Redden ruling
would result in $67 million in lost power generation. Columbia River tribes
and conservationists counter that the figure would amount to only $.20 a
month for ratepayers; and in the larger scheme of BPA's $3 billion annual
revenues, the amount is a small fraction.

Redden, though, was having none of the posturing. Despite Lohn's indication
that the government would likely appeal the decision, Redden charged all
involved to start working together in a meaningful way. "I want you to take
advantage of this moment to get together and start talking," he said. "It's
not an insoluble problem ... You've got an enormous responsibility here.
You're the ones who can put it together."

Hopeful rhetoric aside, it was business as usual from the utilities. "We're
frustrated," said Ken Banister, PNGC Power spokesman. "We're certainly not
convinced that the injunction is good for fish. We know it's not good for
the economy."

Banister and the nonprofit electric generating companies PNGC Power
represents aren't the only ones unhappy with the Redden ruling. The tribes
asked for considerably more water than Redden determined was adequate.
More, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana do not support breaching any of
the lower Snake River dams the way the tribes and environmentalists do: a
tactic the coalition agrees would shore up struggling fall chinook runs.