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NW Fishletter #204, October 24, 2005

[4] Tribes Write Senators To Save Fish Passage Center

Four lower Columbia tribes have asked Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to use his influence to remove language in a Congressional appropriations bill that will de-fund the Fish Passage Center in 2006. In an Oct. 3 letter to McCain, chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the tribes said they couldn't recall a congressional proposal "that has sided so blatantly for the interest of one group over another."

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission fired off a missive to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, calling for its deliberations on the future of the Fish Passage Center to be made public. The Oct. 10 letter charges that Council staffers "have been conferring with [the Bonneville Power Administration], the University of Washington and certain congressional offices on alternatives to reconfigure the operations of the FPC that are inconsistent with [the Council's] Fish and Wildlife Program."

The CRITFC letter "respectfully" requests that the NPCC staff not be permitted to take part in discussions to "disband" the FPC or substantially amend its duties until the Council adopts a policy following procedures that are required by the Northwest Power Act.

Doug Marker, director of the Council's fish and wildlife division, said they had no response to the letter at this time.

At this month's NPCC in meeting in Eugene, Ore., Council members decided to call upon the independent science panel used jointly by NOAA Fisheries and the Council to review the controversial summer spill program backed by lower Columbia tribes and plaintiffs in the ongoing litigation over the hydro BiOp. The Council also wants the panel to look at the possible effect of over-wintering juvenile fall chinook on the analysis.

A preliminary analysis by the Fish Passage Center suggested the court-ordered summer spill program ending Aug. 31 was extremely beneficial to migrating juvenile fall chinook. The FPC memo has been criticized by utility groups, but will also be reviewed by the panel. However, the panel said it won't be able to complete the review by Nov. 30, as requested by the Council, but said it could finish the task by the end of January.

On Oct. 5, the FPC responded to remarks from the Northwest River Partners, a coalition of BPA customers and river users, that said the FPC analysis represented a broad range of uncertainty and completely ignored fish survival once the smolts reached the Columbia River. The FPC said survival data in the mainstem Columbia was difficult to obtain because of pit tag detection limitations below Bonneville Dam.

"We'd really like to see the feds' analysis," said PNGC VP Scott Corwin. "For an organization to claim that it's not 'advocating,' this latest memo certainly shows they are becoming advocates." -B. R.

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