Serving Franklin County, WA

Greenies attacking LC Valley

For the people living in the Lewis-Clark Valley on the Snake River, Gov. Jay Inslee's report on destroying four dams tries to offer some solace. After a "thorough review of relevant economic reports and conversations with experts," the report's authors have some ideas about how to offset the serious harm that would be done to the community.

Reading the vague assurances from the report reminded me of another community hit by the harmful economic impacts of environmental policy: Grays Harbor County after the fight over the spotted owl killed the area's timber jobs.

Working at the state Department of Natural Resources at the time, I made frequent visits to Grays Harbor, talking with workers and others in the timber industry about the impact the loss of those jobs had on the community. There are many echoes of those discussions reflected in the impact losing the dams would have today on the people living in Lewiston and Clarkston.

Ultimately the economic ideas included in the taxpayer-funded report are little more than marketing efforts to reassure environmental activists and their political allies, that destroying the dams will be just fine and they can walk away from the harm done to people in Lewiston and Clarkston with a clear conscience. More than just whistling past the graveyard, that mindset is callous and dismissive.

In his 2008 book Apollo's Fire, Governor Inslee predicted a rosy future for Grays Harbor County after the timber downturn, saying "green companies now form the core of the future for Grays Harbor's economy." Inslee wrote, "In a town like Grays Harbor," [it is actually a county, not a town] "hope is a precious commodity." That hope was misplaced.

Today, Grays Harbor County has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, triple the rate in King County. Driving through Aberdeen, there are still many storefronts that are boarded up – a stark reminder of jobs and businesses that never returned.

Environmental activists and politicians promised jobs would return to Grays Harbor County. In 2001, a book by a Seattle-based environmental activist claimed "green-collar jobs" would "quickly" replace working-class timber jobs in Grays Harbor. Among the job categories he mentioned was "urban planning." It was a ridiculous claim.

The Snake River report now promises there are industries that can replace lost jobs when the dams are destroyed. But people in the Lewis-Clark Valley are already struggling. The authors of the governor's report on the Snake River dams note that Lewiston and Clarkston have "generally lagged behind the rest of the state and country in economic growth and [have] lower average regional wages" than Idaho, Washington, and the U.S. The report's authors noted that "the area has lost between 0.2% to 0.3% of its business establishments annually." Destroying the dams would be another hit to the community.

Despite that reality, the report's authors breezily write, "The region has significant opportunity for a more prosperous future." What plans do the authors have to create this hopeful future?

More public transportation. More buses they argue, "could provide public transportation to service surrounding cities and rural areas to draw in workers."

Next, "courses in wine making and viticulture at nearby universities" could help create a wine industry in the area. "Offering educational pathways," in a variety of industries, "can be a way to strategically funnel new graduates into key industries in the Lewis-Clark Valley."

Finally, revitalization of the waterfront, including "a system of shopping and restaurants, as well as a more extensive network of walking and biking paths."

Public transportation. Bike paths. Winemaking.

The belief that providing more public transit, some classes on winemaking, and a lovely new waterfront will undo the damage done by destroying the dams is a grasping effort to soothe the consciences of those who don't live in the valley.

To be sure, my wife and I enjoy an occasional bottle of wine from Clarkston's Basalt Cellars. But the notion that winemaking will replace the jobs of people, like my brother-in-law who works at the paper mill, is ludicrous. If economic growth simply required a little more public transportation, more education, or a few more wineries, it would already be happening there.

Like Grays Harbor County two decades ago, Lewiston and Clarkston are struggling communities facing a kick from distant environmental activists who offer improbable assurances that all will be well. Despite Gov. Inslee's promises "green companies" never revitalized Grays Harbor County. Winemaking, and public transportation won't undo the damage of destroying the dams.

The only question remaining is whether the destruction wrought on the people of Grays Harbor can be avoided in the Lewis-Clark Valley.

- Todd Myers is the director for the Washington Policy Center's Center for the Environment. Email hime at [email protected].


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