Worrying about problems somewhere else

Published 11:20 am Friday, May 28, 2010

Thanks to several cable television channels, Americans are being deluged with problems in several specific parts of the nation and world. Lately, a few of those specific locations are Arizona, Gulf Coast, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and whatever else suddenly pops up.

Since this column is a commentary about an entirely different topic, I’m not going into further details about those present problems somewhere else or even try to get involved with my opinions or solutions. Instead, I’m going to comment about an odd situation I became involved with years ago regarding three dams on the Snake River between Oregon and Idaho.

The controversy based on those proposed dams on one of the most remote portions of this major river had three aspects.

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First and foremost, the Idaho Power Co. wanted to construct those three dams to generate electricity. Unlike other dams out west, there would be no other alleged benefits like flood control, navigation or irrigation involved.

However, other folks felt those Snake River dams should be built by the federal government. After all, Grand Coulee, Bonneville, Hoover and so many other dams had already been built on public rivers like the Columbia and Colorado Rivers, plus other rivers around the nation.

There was also a very strong group advocating that those dams should never be built. They cited damages to scenic views, loss of recreation, flooding of several small towns, farms and riverside ranch homes, and disruptions to the migration patterns for salmon and other fish.

As a result, many editorials, newspaper and magazine articles and arguments evolved. One could assume there were liberal, conservative and even indifferent reactions to the proposal to build those three dams.

Back then most of the agitation was regional. Under present conditions those three dams would have been the basis for national talkfests on radio and especially television.

Right at that time I was a student at Mankato State College. One of my classmates knew I was from Oregon. To be more specific, he found out I was from Baker County which had the Snake River and the Idaho state line on its east side border. Also, two of the three proposed dams would involve people and towns along the Snake River in this same county.

This student was a real political activist, He literally ordered me to write letters to editors of several east Oregon newspapers and to contact as many relatives and friends as possible to pass along my alleged opinion regarding those dams. (He was in favor of Idaho Power Co. building the dams.) However, he was a control freak and wanted me to show him what I wrote before the letters were mailed. He was also a jerk and a tightwad and wanted me to pay the postage to send the letters out to Oregon.

I had been to a portion of the remote area where the proposed dams were to be built during my earlier years and was rather indifferent to the whole controversy. As a result, I ignored his stupidity.

Now, here’s an update. The Hells Canyon, Oxbow and Brownlee Dams were constructed by the Idaho Power Co. on the Snake River in the late 1950s and into the ‘60s.

About 20 years ago my wife and I had the opportunity to see one of those dams while riding in a small aircraft from Spokane, Wash., to Boise, Idaho. This was the Hells Canyon Dam, located at the end of a rugged roadway on the Idaho side of the Snake River.

As I looked down at the area known as Hells Canyon, several thoughts came to mind. Below our small commuter aircraft was one of the most remote regions in the nation. The only indication of modern life visible was the dam and the road. This region would be a really challenging place for an aircraft to have problems and try to make an emergency landing in a very mountainous location.

Hells Canyon, by the way, is the deepest gorge or canyon in the nation. It may be deeper than the Grand Canyon down in Arizona, but admittedly not quite as spectacular.

Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.