PRIEST RIVER — Federal employees came to town Oct. 26 to deliver messages to, and gather input from, citizens as part of a region-wide tour in response to a federal judge’s order this summer affecting the Columbia River System.
The district judge in Portland ordered a new environmental impact statement for the Columbia River System due to a lawsuit regarding salmon and steelhead in the river system. The current EIS was adopted in 1995, said senior environmental specialist Jennifer Corwin of the Bonneville Power Administration. Beth Reinhart of the Bureau of Reclamation explained that the three agencies that manage the river system knew that an update to the EIS would be necessary given the amount of time that had passed since the last one, but that Federal District Judge Michael Simon’s order in May set a definite timetable for its completion. The EIS will take approximately five years to complete as it goes through the steps Congress mandated in the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act. Currently, representatives from the Bonneville Power Administration, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are gathering comments from members of the public by holding public meetings in towns across the Northwest in what is called the scoping phase of the process. After their road show concludes in January 2017, the agencies will incorporate those commments in their work together to produce a draft EIS which will come out in late 2019 or early 2020, said Reinhart, and then be resubmitted to the public for additional comments. A final version is expected by 2021, in compliance with the judge’s order.
The Lake Pend Oreille Alliance, a local organization dedicated to defending property rights and scenic values in the Lake Pend Oreille vicinity, protested the way the agencies were going about the scoping phase of the EIS process “because it does not comply with 40CFR 1506.6. Public Involvement Due process for NEPA, because the lack of notice, the lack of an opportunity to be heard and the vagueness of the action related to the September 30, 2016 letter violate due process.” The group also said “There has been virtually no notice to landowners and interested groups that will be directly affected by the proposed Columbia River Scoping,” and “the September 30th letter is so vague in its proscribed behavior that citizens are left to guess as to its meaning.”
The area’s two state representatives, Reps. Heather Scott and Sage Dixon, were on hand to see for themselves what the agencies and the public had to say.
Local residents who could not attend the meeting but who would still like to submit comments are invited to email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail them to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Attn: CRSO EIS, P.O. Box 2870, Portland, Oregon 97208-2870. All comments, including the name and address of the person submitting them, become part of the official record and are considered public information.
For more information, call 800-290-5033 or visit www.crso.info. Two online webinars at www.crso.info scheduled for Dec. 13 are available for people interested in learning more.