Key players in the debate about breaching the four lower Snake River dams so far are silent about two scenarios being circulated by the staff of U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson that address how grain could reach the Portland area if barges no longer called on the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley.
Simpson’s staff began sharing the scenarios after some were critical of Simpson’s $33 billion plan to help save salmon because it lacked details about what would replace barging between Lewiston and Portland.
Attempts from the Tribune to get comment from the Port of Lewiston, the Idaho Farm Bureau, the Idaho Wheat Commission and the Lewis Clark Terminal on Wednesday and Thursday were not successful.
Both ideas are projected to cost $3.75 billion and use money already in Simpson’s proposal that had been earmarked for farmers, agricultural cooperatives, ports in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley and the Tri-Cities, and barging companies.
In one, $3.75 billion would be placed in a nonprofit Agriculture Transport Trust in 2021, and, assuming a 3.75 percent interest rate, would grow to $5 billion by 2030 when Lower Granite and Little Goose dams would be breached, one year before the same measure would be taken at Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor dams.
At that stage, the fund could generate $188 million annually, which would be enough to give farmers from the Camas Prairie and the Palouse a $1.99 per-bushel credit on grain they put on barges at the Tri-Cities.
The numbers are based on 95 million bushels annually, a figure the scenarios attribute to a five-year average from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
That compares with the 50 cents to 75 cents per-bushel cost to barge grain from Lewiston to Portland now, according to the scenarios.
The board of the trust would include agriculture directors from Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana, as well as farmers, shippers and deans of the departments of agriculture from the four land-grant universities in those states.
The board could direct the annual annuity from the fund for things other than the credits, like university research. The first scenario doesn’t include infrastructure upgrades.
A second similar scenario would put $2.3 billion in the trust, which would reach $3 billion by 2030, resulting in a credit of as much as $1.21 per bushel to qualifying farmers.
Another $1.5 billion would be used to update rail, storage, port and barge infrastructure.
How feasible those concepts are is not clear.
One farmer, Amy Uptmor, said she unwilling to consider the ideas in the scenarios because she still has so many unanswered questions about Simpson’s proposal.
She and her husband truck almost all the grain they raise on the Camas Prairie and the Tammany/Mann Lake area to the Lewis Clark Terminal to be barged to Portland.
“If you look at the cost savings the river provides, that’s tremendous,” said Uptmor, a sixth-generation farmer.
She detailed the concerns she had in a three-page letter to Simpson after reading the proposal and listening to his video presentation. She has yet to receive a response.
Part of what she’s struggling to understand is how Simpson is asserting he wants to save salmon and yet has proposed a 35-year moratorium on litigation involving salmon at other dams in the region.
She also believes that replacing energy produced by the dams could be challenging, especially because Simpson’s plan relies partially on small nuclear reactors and hasn’t identified where they might go.
“There’s a lot I think would be devastating,” she said.