Monday, December 20, 2010

Condit Dam Removal Ordered

What does it take to remove a 125-foot tall wall of concrete from a mountain-fed river? Nearly two decades of perseverance and dedication. The Mountaineers celebrated long-awaited news on Thursday, December 16, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ordered the decommissioning of the White Salmon River’s Condit Dam. In the project surrender order, FERC stated,"We conclude, based on the record of this case, that the benefits of dam removal to anadromous fish, wildlife, and whitewater recreation outweigh the costs associated with the loss of Condit dam and Northwestern Lake."They further stated that these benefits of removal "cannot be achieved if the dam is left in place."

The Mountaineers, along with partners such as American Whitewater, Friends of the White Salmon, American Rivers, Yakama Indian Nation, and Trout Unlimited have worked for years alongside dam owner PacifiCorp to pursue one of the region’s most significant dam removal projects. Thomas O’Keefe, Mountaineers Recreation Resources Chair and Stewardship Director of American Whitewater, said "Condit Dam was originally constructed a century ago for hydropower and at the time met a local community need. Now we recognize other values of the river and while the dam itself is big, the hydropower project is relatively small especially in light of its major environmental impacts--its time has passed."

The dam removal, scheduled to begin in October 2011, will restore habitat for salmon and steelhead, boost recreation opportunities, and revitalize the health of this Columbia River tributary. Restoration of this river is important for both fish and recreational users. Fed by the springs draining off Mt. Adams, the river is one of the more important tributaries in this reach of the Columbia River with consistent summer flows of cool water that provide year around boating for paddlers and critical cold water habitat for fish trying to escape the heat of summer.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Special Events vs. Educational Events on State Lands

The budget situation for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Recreation Program is particularly dire – although DNR generates revenue by logging its state trust properties, all of those funds are dedicated to fund schools and state and county institutions. The agency relies on allocations from the state’s general fund, as well as grants from the Non-highway Off Road Vehicle Account (NOVA), generated by 1% of the state's gas tax. During the last budget cycle, DNR lost 50% of its revenue from the general fund and NOVA money was shifted to State Parks to keep them open. Basically, DNR is already down to the bone and closing recreation sites. The odds are that revenue from the general fund will be slashed just as dramatically for the pending 2011-13 budget.

The Recreation Reform Bill proposed by DNR and WDFW is a last ditch effort to keep recreational trails and facilities open. The bill outlines a number of cost-saving and revenue generating tactics, including the $10 per day/$40 per year Explore Washington Pass required for individual access to DNR and WDFW land. Notable to The Mountaineers and similar organizations, the draft bill also includes a provision that will require a $200 special event license for any organized event for which participants pay a donation or participation fee ( in addition, all participants will still need to carry either a $10 day pass or $40 annual pass.)

As it is written, this provision could be prohibitive for Mountaineers courses on DNR lands such as scrambling or rescue classes at Mount Si or sea kayaking field trips to Cypress Island. Mark Mauren of the DNR explained that the impetus behind this provision is that organizations and businesses often use DNR lands for money-making events like poker runs and races, generating thousands of dollars without paying a penny for their impact to the land.

While the intention of the special event fee is to prevent exploitation of natural resources, The Mountaineers' intention is to train responsible recreationists. DNR encourages the Mountaineers to submit reasonable recommendations for a revised special event license that might better accommodate non-profit educational activities.

The Mountaineers may wish to recommend the following changes to the draft legislation:
- Distinguish between events that serve to raise money and events that serve to educate by creating two categories of permits: Special Event and Educational Event licenses
- Define Special Event: commercial or competitive organized event which any person, group, or organization makes or attempts to make a profit, or collect compensation from participants in the form of fees or donations for the purpose of participating in an event.
- Define Educational Event: organized educational presentation, training, or exercise provided to participants for a nominal fee, collected for the sole purpose of covering the expense associated with event.
- Keep existing language regarding $200 fee or 10% of total income of event intact for Special Events.
- Propose fee exemption for educational events, but maintain that all participants possess the required Explore Washington pass.

What do you think? What, if any, is a reasonable amount to charge organizations for hosting courses and trainings on public lands? Share your ideas and comments on the Recreation Reform Bill, as well as the special event fee language, contact Deadline for comments is December 15, 2010.