UPDATE – Judge sets deadline for final opinion on Columbia hydro system

A federal judge has set a March 18, 2008, deadline for NOAA Fisheries to release a final biological opinion on operating the Columbia River Basin hydropower system in ways that protect and recover threatened salmon stocks.

U.S. District Judge James Redden set the date at a Dec. 12 court status conference on the federal fish agency’s latest draft biological opinion. The draft �biop,� released Oct. 31, found the hydropower system could be operated to protect and recover threatened salmon stocks. (HNN 10/31/07)

The environmentalist dam removal lobby opposes the draft biop because, like four ill-fated �biops� before it, the opinion does not consider removing four Corps of Engineers dams on the Snake River totaling 3,033 MW.

Redden voided NOAA Fisheries’ previous biop, the 2004 opinion, ruling it was legally flawed because it found “no jeopardy” to salmon and steelhead listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Should the latest biop also fail to win his approval, the judge has warned he has the option to order agency actions that might include dam removal.

Michael Coffey, fishery program planner for the Corps’ Northwest Division, said Dec. 13 that federal “action agencies” involved in the hydropower system are reviewing and considering Redden’s comments from the hearing.

NOAA Fisheries spokesman Brian Gorman said Redden set the deadline for the final biop with the understanding the number and substance of public comments, due Jan. 4, 2008, might dictate more time is needed.

NOAA Fisheries has said the new biop — actually two opinions covering the Columbia Basin hydro system and upper Snake River irrigation projects �- spells out an �aggressive and comprehensive� series of hydropower system improvements, hatchery reforms, and habitat enhancements.

The agency said the biops reflected hundreds of millions of dollars of research over more than a decade to affirm the actions would prevent harm to threatened and endangered salmon, and ultimately move the species toward recovery.
Deleting NOAA spokesman’s interpretation of injunction discussion.

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