The Port of Lewiston would stay open even if the four lower Snake River dams were breached.
That’s the take of Lewiston Port Commissioner Mary Hasenoehrl, who spoke at a Wednesday meeting of the commission about a proposal made by U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson to bolster efforts to save salmon.
Simpson’s plan calls for breaching Lower Granite Dam in the summer of 2030 and Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor dams the following year.
He’s also recommending billions of dollars in compensation be directed to Lewiston and other communities and industries that presently benefit from slackwater.
The instant Simp-son’s ideas became public, Hasenoehrl said she began hearing from Boise valley lobbyists and legislators.
“They feel like if the dams are breached, the Port of Lewiston is done,” she said. “That is not accurate.”
The Port of Lewiston’s mission is economic development, Hasenoehrl said.
“Sure, the dams provide a great benefit to this entire region, but if the dams are breached, the port will still be here,” she said. “We’ll still be doing economic development. We just won’t have that tool anymore in our tool belt.”
Port officials said that while they appreciated Simpson devoting so much thought to the issue, they have numerous concerns about his plan.
Some are general, such as its ambiguity, its lack of guarantees that it will meet its goal and an absence of attention to the challenges salmon face from predators and in the ocean.
“That might be the biggest disappointment, that after we spend $33 billion dollars of my great-grandchildren’s money, we may not have come any closer to fixing the problem that currently exists,” Port Commission President Mike Thomason said.
Others are more specific. Port Manager David Doeringsfeld wondered about $275 million earmarked for a Lewiston-area campus of the Snake River Center for Advanced Energy Storage.
The center’s mission would be to develop ways to capture and store energy from renewable sources like wind, solar and hydro.
Doeringsfeld asked if a big company like Tesla would really be interesting in moving that research to Lewiston.
A better approach would be investing in infrastructure, such as an interstate between Coeur d’Alene and Lewiston, broadband, and electricity transmission lines that bring low-cost power to attract business, Doeringsfeld said.
“If you were to do something as draconian as dam breaching, what the area really needs is connectivity,” Doeringsfeld said.
Commissioner Jerry Klemm said he has questions about what would happen in 30 years if perpetual funding wasn’t available.
“To me, it’s like the tooth fairy,” he said. “You think it’s going to be there, but it isn’t. There’s no guarantees.”