City Council to consider supporting Snake River dam removal

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles City Council will discuss the removal of the lower Snake River dams today.

Council members will consider signing a letter of support from the Sierra Club to U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, calling for the removal of the four Eastern Washington dams.

The hydroelectric dams built between 1961 and 1975 have been blamed for declining chinook salmon populations and the resulting starvation of Southern Resident orca whales.

“We believe that the science strongly supports restoring a free-flowing lower Snake River as the cornerstone of a lawful and effective recovery plan,” the letter states.

The council meeting will begin at 6 p.m.

For viewing options, visit the city’s website, www.cityofpa.us.

The City Council received an email from Sierra Club state vice chair Marc Sullivan on May 17 seeking support for the letter, City Manager Nathan West said in a council memo.

Council member LaTrisha Suggs made a motion to discuss the letter at the May 19 council meeting. The motion failed, 4-3.

A majority of the council cited special rules for public meetings under Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order for COVID-19. City Council agendas have been restricted to items deemed necessary and routine or related to the public health emergency.

A long-awaited federal report released in February rejected the removal of the lower Snake River dams.

The draft environmental impact statement said doing so would destabilize the power grid, increase greenhouse gas emissions and more than double the risk of regional power outages.

More recently, the state Department of Ecology required the federal operators of eight dams on the lower Columbia and Snake rivers to create a plan to keep the reservoirs cold enough to protect endangered salmon.

The city of Port Angles, Clallam County Public Utility District and many other local utilities purchase wholesale power generated from the Columbia and Snake rivers.

“There may be financial implications to the city if dams are removed,” West said in his memo for today’s meeting.

Proponents of dam removal say the four lower Snake River dams produce a small fraction of the region’s hydroelectricity and have proven disastrous for salmon species that struggle to navigate their fish ladders.

“Steep salmon population declines in recent decades and the loss of benefits that they bring has harmed communities in (Washington state’s) 6th (Congressional) District and across our region,” the Sierra Club letter states.

“We now know that the loss of chinook salmon is the main cause of endangerment for Southern Resident orcas.”

Opponents of dam removal say they want salmon to flourish, but they aren’t sure breaching four lower Snake River dams will help.

Dam removal could instead damage the regional economy and the stability of the power supply, opponents say.

The lower Snake River dams also contain a series of locks that provide a 465-mile navigable waterway from Lewiston, Idaho, to the Pacific Ocean.

Suggs, a first-year council member and restoration planner for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, said Snake River dam removal would benefit the Olympic Peninsula.

“We have a lot of commercial fishermen out there,” Suggs said at the May 19 meeting.

“We also have, when the season is open, a lot of sport fishing. Our salmon derbies have kind of dwindled over the last 30 years because of the decrease in salmon populations.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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