Thursday, August 21, 2003 - The

Bush to visit dam, talk salmon

Nicholas K. Geranios - Associated Press

President Bush will step back into one of the Northwest's most contentious issues on Friday when he visits the Tri-Cities to discuss salmon recovery.

During the 2000 campaign, Bush came out strongly in favor of saving four dams on the Snake River that environmentalists contend should be breached to save wild salmon runs.

On Friday he will visit one of those dams, Ice Harbor, to discuss salmon restoration, the White House said Wednesday. The dam is east of Pasco. He will travel to the Seattle area later in the day.

Some environmental groups that had prepared large demonstrations Friday against Bush in the Seattle area were disappointed he was taking his salmon message to Eastern Washington.

"The rumor in Puget Sound is we scared him off," Joseph Bogaard of Save Our Wild Salmon said in Seattle.

White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said Bush had nothing to hide.

"The president has a very solid record on the nation's environment and will continue to discuss proudly his record of achievement," Lisaius said.

Bush lost Washington in the 2000 election, largely because of a concentration of Democratic voters in the Seattle area.

By making his salmon speech in the Tri-Cities, Bush was choosing a place where he was more popular. The area also has enjoyed a relatively robust economy compared to the rest of the state because of federal spending at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

It will be Bush's first visit to the state since he was elected, and the first visit of a president to the Tri-Cities since Richard Nixon in 1971.

Both congressmen from Eastern Washington, George Nethercutt and Doc Hastings, are Republicans and will join the president at the dam.

Hastings, who is from Pasco, predicted Bush will reaffirm his support for the dams.

"He'll also point out that the dams are still here and fish runs are coming back in record numbers," Hastings said.

Hastings also noted that Bush deserves credit for speeding cleanup of radioactive wastes at Hanford, which for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons.

"Accelerating the cleanup at Hanford is one of the most environmentally responsible things we could do," Hastings said.

Nethercutt, who is running against U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., will likely get a boost from Bush's visit among voters who do not know much about the Spokane-area congressman.

While salmon recovery may seem an esoteric concern in a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, the issue here is steeped in cultural identity, politics and conflicting science.

State Democratic chairman Paul Berendt contended Bush was more interested in spreading a message of saving the dams than saving the fish.

"I think it's just pandering to the (conservative) base," Berendt said.

"Our region is trying for presidential leadership on so many issues related to the economy, trade, getting unemployed workers back on the job," Berendt said. "In many ways, the whole issue of the salmon is just changing the subject from the economy, which is really on everyone's mind."

State GOP chairman Chris Vance said the president has a good understanding of the West's love of the land.

"He knows our issues," Vance said. "The president wants a balance. He doesn't want to do anything radical, like tear down the dams."

Sierra Club spokeswoman Kathleen Casey said any interest by Bush in salmon recovery is political.

"The White House recognizes these are very popular issues with moms and dads in suburbia," Casey said.


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