The questionable fate of 1,800 testimonies
"[The Nez Perce] fed Lewis and Clark when they were starving. Now
its time to return the favor. If we had known this was going to happen, Lewis and
Clark would never have made it."
Timothy Pinkham, Nez Perce nation
By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer
Blaine County spoke with a clear voice last Wednesday when more than two
dozen Wood River Valley residents supported dam breaching at a U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers public hearing in Twin Falls. But judging by statements made by Army Corps
representatives, most of them may as well not have bothered.
Even though Lt. Col. William Bulen, speaking to the crowd at the beginning
of the hearing, said, "This is not an attempt at consensus or to take a vote,"
most people talked about the things they were for or against. Or they chastised the
The plight of the fish is a complex issue, and the hearing was just one of
15 throughout the Pacific Northwest that took place through March 9. By the end of the
final hearing in Petersburg, Alaska, a panel of eight representatives from the Army Corps,
the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Reclamation and other federal agencies
had collected testimony from 1,800 citizens.
Army Corps officer Bulen, a former Ranger, interviewed in the lobby during
an intermission at the Twin Falls hearing, shed some insight on the fate of all that data.
Lt. Col. William Bulen, the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers hearing coordinator, has a mammoth task sorting through the salmon
Reporter: Colonel, could you tell me what you plan
on doing with the testimony youve heard tonight?
Bulen: Well, were here to collect new
information tonight. We wont be paying any attention to the opinions offered by
Reporter: Yes, but what will you actually do with
the new information?
Bulen: As you can see, weve got a court
reporter, and later well be compiling the testimony into different subject areas, so
we can give it our full consideration.
Reporter: I guess what I was trying to get at was
how tonights information will actually be useful to you. After you compile it into
subject areas, then what?
Bulen: Well, were trying to find out if we
can learn anything new from the public that our researchers havent discovered yet.
Reporter: So, have you learned anything new
Bulen: No. Now, Ive got to get back inside.
That was after 20 people had testified.
The snippets of conversation overheard from the 500 or so people milling
around display booths in the lobby indicated that many believed their representatives had
already made up their minds on the salmon issue and would carry their decisions to
Congress, which has the final say on whether four dams in the lower Snake River should be
decommissioned in the name of fish.
A few in the milling crowd suggested the hearings were a stall tactic,
though the reason for the alleged stalling was always a little hazy.
Early in the afternoon, a bus had left Blaine County with about 35
dam-breaching advocates, mostly Wood River Valley members of the Idaho Conservation
While the bus hurtled south towards Twin Falls, environmental activist Ann
Christiansen warmed up the riders over a public-address system.
Christiansen admonished the them to get up and speak at the hearings, even
if only to say they support dam breaching.
"Theyre keeping score!" Christiansen said. "We need
"Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" chanted one enthusiastic salmon lover.
At the hearing, Timothy Pinkham, a member of the Nez Perce tribe, spoke on
behalf of future generations of Nez Perce children.
"[The Nez Perce] fed Lewis and Clark when they were starving,"
he said. "Now its time to return the favor. If we had known this was going to
happen, Lewis and Clark would never have made it."
Blaine County resident Thia Konig said she was ashamed of the plight of
the salmon, and embarrassed by efforts to transport migrating fish over land because
rivers have been dammed to ease navigation by boats.
"This is ridiculous," she said. "Right now, we have grain
in the river and fish in the trucks."
Chris Mendenhall, of Twin Falls, warned the federal officials, "At
this moment, we cannot let the environmental zealots and news media push for dam
Dile Monson, of Twin Falls, declared, "Ultimately, dams may be the
saviors of our salmon population. How else would we be able to tag salmon and know
theyre being decimated?"
And so it went.
Late in the evening, public information officer Nola Conway answered
questions at the Army Corps of Engineers booth. During an interview, she said she
agreed with Lt. Col. Bulen that researchers probably couldnt use most of the
testimony given that night.
But there was one man from Blaine County who offered something researchers
had not yet considered, she said.
Thad Farnham, a building contractor, said he "finds it unbelievable
that the building industry hasnt
weighed in on the breaching issue."
Farnham predicted a "huge boom" in building when the fish