First three dams, now B2H: Another Idaho Power mistake

I recently attended a B2H, Boardman-to-Hemingway, meeting on Idaho Power’s request to build a multimegawatt power line from Boardman, Oregon, to Hemingway, Idaho, near Boise.

I am opposed. Some background. When I was somewhat younger, 1962 or ’63 I was fishing the Powder River Canyon several miles below Thief Valley Dam and hooked two silver-sided steelhead. Man, those fish were bright for being so far from the ocean. I later pulled one up onto the road out of Big Creek at the mouth of a little stream called Lick Creek. My brother and father hooked two in Velvet Creek near where it runs into Big Creek. In those years on the farm if the hay got put up we would have a family excursion for a few days on Eagle Creek. We camped at Skookum Creek. Kids with fly rods could catch dozens of fish during the day and near nightfall the pool at Skookum Creek would come alive with smaller trout rising to flies. We didn’t know much about fisheries, just being farm kids, but those trout that we caught all day long were steelhead smolts and the smaller ones in the evening were salmon smolts.

Things started downhill with the approval of Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon dams, with no fish ladders, in 1958. Fish runs were abandoned in 1963. Warnings that the infamous Rube Goldberg contraption above Brownlee to trap and haul migrating smolts would be a failure mattered not and much money was saved to supply cheaper power to the region, and it is cheaper if you discount blocking hundreds of miles of anadromous fish-producing streams.

That deficit is made up for with hatcheries that are financed partly by a surcharge on your electric bills. Out of sight, out of mind cheap power, fish runs on the brink of extinction, recreational fisherman, high seas fishermen, cannery workers, guides etc. are out of luck but if the destruction of the largest area of salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and searun Dolly Varden counts for nothing then cheap it is.

Destruction of riparian zone habitat was supposed to be mitigated by Idaho Power and somehow they forgot to do that for almost 50 years until the relicensing process was about to begin. The purchase of the big Daly Creek Ranch south of Richland and dumping of some salmon and steelhead into the Boise and Powder rivers was nothing but a short-term public relations stunt. Recent efforts by the state of Oregon to install fish ladders in the canyon was defeated and put off for 20 years. Sure would have been a lot of construction jobs there. Oh well, the power line will create jobs.

One thing that is not mentioned on the B2H line. It does not end at Hemingway. It will connect with other power grids. We used to call this the Western intertie, Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, connect it all together. Modern efficient power generation and distribution, designed by the same people who lined up all the battleships and airplanes at Pearl Harbor. All the eggs in one basket where one smart guy with a computer can make a third of the United States go dark.

For decades we have fought over the management of BPA hydroelectric power on the Columbia dams. Salmon and steelhead flushes where water is released to move smolts downstream, Columbia River water is more than spoken for. Any power distribution scheme that could alter the balance of salmon and steelhead and sturgeon is just begging for an Endangered Species Act lawsuit. If that doesn’t scare the B2H advocates then there is the Treaty of 1855 and the Bolt Decision and tribal rights.

The Hells Canyon Complex with no passage was one of the biggest environmental blunders ever. Compounding that with the biggest white elephant power scheme is not real smart.

Steve Culley lives in Baker City.

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