Restoration Suit Stems From Power Crunch


Sept. 2, 2003

Central Washington State - The power crunch of 2001 will hurt Central Washington's fish and wildlife for years if federal authorities don't now protect funds dedicated to dozens of recovery projects, according to a lawsuit filed by the Yakama Nation.

The nation claims that the Bonneville Power Administration shouldn't have reduced the budget for everything from watershed assessments to hatchery operations across a four-state region.

The money is channeled from BPA through the Northwest Power and Conservation Council as part of efforts to make up for the impact of federal hydropower dams.

The council contracts with a host of agencies, including tribes, to improve habitat for turtles, fish and other species.

The Yakama Nation, whose reach on fisheries issues essentially extends from the Canadian border to the Lower Columbia River on the Oregon border, is the largest of 20 tribal contractors.

Since 1978, the Yakama Nation has received nearly $84 million worth of grants from the Power Council, plus related cash to subcontractors.

Tim Weaver, an attorney for the Yakama Nation, said tribal officials are still calculating the effect of the BPA's decision, but expects it to amount to several million dollars for the nation alone within the current two-year budget period.

That's particularly hard to deal with in the middle of a funding period because some restoration projects have already started, Weaver said.

"This is not a situation where anybody is real happy with what's happening. The real culprit is the Bonneville Power Administration," he said.

Bonneville, in turn, contends the lawsuit resulted from confusion over how much money it would set aside for the Power Council while in the midst of trying to recover from high electricity costs.

BPA spokesman Ed Mosey said Bonneville has asked all of its own workers, as well as outside programs, to reduce as much spending as possible.

BPA held back because of tremendous losses incurred during the 2001 power crunch. In order to meet high demand, the agency was forced to buy high-priced power on the open market.

Bonneville is trying to make up $5 billion in excess power purchases by 2006. That compares with a $3 billion annual operating budget.

"Regardless of the history of how we got where we are, we think the same job can be done biologically for less money and we badly need that to happen because of the terrible economic circumstances here in the Northwest," Mosey said.

"The object here is not to spend money. The object is to get biological results."

The current annual budget provides $140 million for the council's fish and wildlife projects.

The Power Council and its contractors had originally expected about $45 million more. BPA and the other parties differ on whether Bonneville actually promised that full amount.

Mosey pointed that even the lower figure was more than had been provided in the previous five-year period.

The Power Council initially thought it might have to cut projects in order to meet its budget.

After extensive budget review, the council in February settled on a tedious cash-management approach that carefully tracks money spent on each project, said council spokesman John Harrison.

According to the council's calculations, the complicated balance system should eventually pay for the scheduled work on more than 200 projects.

The council has started negotiations with tribal lawyers and both sides indicated the possibility of a settlement. BPA faces a separate legal petition.

The Yakama lawsuit claims the Power Council should not have bowed to Bonneville's request for cuts. In addition, the case alleges BPA should have maintained the higher funding level.

Harrison said the council didn't have much choice on its end of the deal.

"We didn't make the spending decision. We just tried to live with it," he said.


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