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Originally published Thursday, April 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Disagreement surfaces about $900M fish plan

A deal unveiled this week commits federal agencies to spend $900 million to help imperiled Northwest salmon — but just $540 million...

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A deal unveiled this week commits federal agencies to spend $900 million to help imperiled Northwest salmon — but just $540 million would go to new projects.

The Bonneville Power Administration said Monday four Indian tribes would get the $900 million for salmon restoration in return for dropping out of a lawsuit challenging operations of hydroelectric dams.

At least 40 percent of the money — about $360 million — would go to existing programs over the next 10 years that don't have dedicated funding sources, said BPA spokesman Scott Simms.

Sara Patton, executive director of the Northwest Energy Coalition, a Seattle-based group that is part of the federal lawsuit, said she was disappointed that only 60 percent of money being spent by the BPA and other federal agencies would go to new projects.

But Patton said a bigger problem is that much of the money apparently will not go to help endangered salmon, as the lawsuit intends. Instead the money appears to target lamprey and other salmon species that are not listed as endangered.

"We're suing because Joe Salmon is endangered, and they are doing something for Charlie Salmon and Jack Lamprey. That is good for those fish, but it doesn't help our salmon," she said.

The BPA, the Portland-based regional power agency, says the agreement should raise wholesale electric rates by 2 percent to 4 percent.

The deal would end years of legal battles between the Bush administration and the four Northwest tribes. However, it would not affect a fifth tribe that is party to a lawsuit, nor environmental groups that vowed to press on in their efforts to breach four dams on the Lower Snake River in Eastern Washington.

Federal officials call the agreement a landmark in the long-running dispute over balancing tribal and commercial fishing rights, protection for threatened salmon and power demands from the region's network of hydroelectric dams.

Environmentalists say the agreement falls far short of what's needed to save endangered fish stocks.

But John Ogan, a lawyer for the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon, said environmentalists were taking a narrow view of a conflict that encompasses a wide range of species.

"The interests of the environmental plaintiffs are narrow, and their objective seems to be singular — focused on Snake River dam breaching," Ogan said. "The tribes go well beyond extinction issues. We want healthy, viable populations of all stocks — listed or unlisted — across the [Columbia River] basin," including unlisted salmon, steelhead and lamprey, he said.

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Even so, the agreement addresses fish that are listed as endangered, Ogan said.

"This agreement does rebalance and broaden the federal agencies' commitment to all the fish and wildlife affected by the Federal Columbia River [Power] System, and we're very proud of that," he said.

The Warm Springs are slated to receive about $80 million under the agreement.

Three other tribes also will get money: the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington state.

The Colville will receive about $200 million under the agreement. The Umatilla were expected to receive about $150 million and the Yakama about $330 million.

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission also agreed to the settlement and would get about $90 million, although one of its member tribes, the Idaho-based Nez Percé Tribe, declined to sign. The Nez Percé say they still want to see the four Lower Snake River dams taken down.

The money will be spent on habitat restoration, hatchery improvements and other projects — with $50 million set aside specifically for lamprey.

In return for the $900 million, tribes agreed for 10 years to support the government's controversial plans for operating its dams and bow out of a long-running lawsuit that has faulted dam operations.

They also pledged not to advocate breaching dams or listing Pacific lamprey as endangered.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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