Snake River dams cause more debate

TRI-CITIES, WA - Removing four dams on the Snake River is still on the table right now. But just this week, a new study revealed that the benefits of doing that is greater than what it would cost.

Seattle-based companies ECONorthwest and Vulcan released their study on the Snake River dams Monday. The study looked at what life would be like without the four dams from Ice Harbor to Lower Granite. 

It says the biggest loss will be in barge transportation and hydro power electricity - yet the study says the public benefits are still greater.

The biggest critics are Republican representatives Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

This privately-funded study is a slap in the face of our state's agricultural economy," said Reps. Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, both R-Wash., in a joint statement. "It is another example of Seattle-based interests failing to understand our way of life in Central and Eastern Washington."

Supporters of removing the dams say their removal could have the potential to reduce extinction of endangered fish, and a free-flowing river would increase recreation value and tourism. 

More locally, companies like Benton PUD say without the dams the cost of energy would skyrocket for local customers.

"All of us are impacted if they take those resources away," Jodi Henderson of Benton PUD said. 

Henderson knows firsthand how important hydro power is to the local economy. But with the possibility of the dams' removal, the days of low cost energy could be numbered.

"That will lead to an increase in power costs not only for the utilities but for our customers," Henderson said. 

According to the study, the cost of removing the dams is in the ballpark of $8.6 billion, along with higher costs in electricity without hydro power.

"The Snake River dams produce over a thousand megawatts of electricity and they have the potential to ramp up to over three thousand," Henderson said. 

Supporters say the the costs are worth it when protecting endangered fish stocks and increasing recreation value and tourism. 

The debate now moves on to federal court where an environmental study will be done.

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