The “Port” of Lewiston

Lots of people don’t realize that the little town of Lewiston, Idaho, is a seaport, partly because it seems impossible that a spot hundreds of miles inland that no one’s ever heard of could be so.  Such skepticism is entirely warranted; Lewiston wasn’t, in fact a port until the completion of four taxpayer-funded dams on the formerly wild and salmon-filled Snake River in 1975.  The river has now been reduced to a slackwater barge canal, and driven four salmon runs to the brink of extinction in the process.  Salmon and trout that once spawned in the upper reaches of the Snake now must negotiate almost a dozen dams to get there, and as you’d imagine, few make it.  And by few, I mean there have been years you could count them on one hand.

Much hand-wringing, if little common sense, has been devoted to this rapid, human-caused extinction.  Fish have been loaded onto trucks and dumped below the dams, water levels have been tinkered with during runs, and the Oregonian even won a Pulitzer Prize (!) for shamelessly touting the mighty port of Lewiston as the gateway to the Global Economic Future in a silly but unusually expensive series called, “The French Fry Connection.”  The gist of the series, in a nutshell, was that them Chinamen love Idaho taters and envy America’s resulting obesity, so we’re all gonna git rich, or something.  In this case, there isn’t just one elephant in the room being aggressively ignored; it’s a regular Barnum and Bailey extravaganza:  the umpteen millions blown by the Army Corps of Engineers on the dams themselves, a bunch of Columbia Basin farmers who now feel divinely entitled to free water and cheap shipping, a resurgent barge-building industry in Portland, and the hardy citizens of Lewiston (and their neighbors in Clarkston, get it?), who evidently harbor the deluded aspiration of being the next Hong Kong.  From the Port of Lewsiton website:

Port of Lewiston Vessel Schedule

**Last Receiving**

11/10/11 Oslo 106 Port of Lewiston
11/17/11 Leda Trader Port of Lewiston
11/17/11 Madrid 71 Port of Lewiston
11/24/11 Copenhagen 89 Port of Lewiston
12/01/11 Humbolt Ex Port of Lewiston
12/01/11 London 122 Port of Lewiston
12/01/11 Columbia Port of Lewiston
12/08/11 New Yorker Port of Lewiston
12/08/11 Washington 119 Port of Lewiston
12/22/11 Santiago 07E01 Port of Lewiston
12/22/11 Ottawa 91 Port of Lewiston
12/22/11 Rainier 64 Port of Lewiston
01/05/12 Valencia 05E02 Port of Lewiston

As you can see, the taxpayer-financed, habitat destroying “port” isn’t exactly busy; more boats come to any local fishing dock in a day than in this two-month period.  Despite the cheery slogan at the top of the Port’s site, “It Pays to Have a Port,” it obviously doesn’t pay much.  Still, a combination of bureaucratic inertia, an unwillingness to admit mistakes, and the massive expense of removing the dams makes Lewiston’s ludicrous ambitions a seemingly irreversible reality.

You see, dams like the Lower Granite Dam, pictured above, are now treated as historic treasures that must not be compromised, although they are of such little value that the Corps couldn’t even be bothered to think up good names for them. Ice Harbor.  Lower Monumental.  Little Goose.  Really?  We are constantly told that the dams provide enough electricity to “power a city the size of Seattle,” but no such cities exist in that underpopulated, sere landscape, and much of the power is therefore used to operate the locks and pump underpriced water from the river to a few hundred Columbia Basin farmers.  All of whom, you may be assured, listen to Rush Limbaugh daily and are  thus fanatically opposed to such wanton government handouts, at least for others.

Fortunately one Portland-based Federal Judge, James Redden, has doggedly kept the pro-extinction forces on the run by, well, pointing out that we still do, despite conservatives’ efforts, have a law about this sort of thing called the Endangered Species Act, of which driving four species into extinction in fifteen years quite clearly runs afoul.  Since the first of his many anti-dam rulings, billions of dollars have been spent on “mitigation,” which loosely translates into “swallowing the spider to catch the fly,” to no avail, all the while further reducing the dams’ already dubious economic advantages.

In these times of Austerity, it’s unlikely in the extreme that the Federal Government will step up to the plate and undo the incalculable harm this boondoggle has caused, and since anadromous fish like trout and salmon aren’t known for their lavish campaign contributions, Redden’s efforts aren’t likely to save the fish.  But future historians will undoubtedly see this as yet another giant unforced error by self-interested know-nothings.  It does get hard to keep track of them all.


  1. Like the guy at Multnomah Falls mentioned, they wouldn’t have to gap all the dams in order to keep the salmon–I think he said just the lower two would do it.

    But then we need to realize that if the salmon stocks do bounce back, we would then begin shipping all the resultant fish protein to China along with the potatoes. Fish and chips–served up by the invisible hand of the omniscient market.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Sad, but probably true. Too bad y’all aren’t here this weekend; though the weather is more seasonable (i.e., awful), a bunch of FDLers are planning to crash the promised closure of Occupy Portland tonight. Ought to be interesting; CHNN will be reporting live.

  2. mikeinportc says:

    “Build it, and they will come.”

    I guess that only works in the movies.
    Have they tried getting James Earl Jones to do some promotional spots? ;)