BOISE, Idaho — Congressman Mike Simpson has put together a bold plan to help salmon recovery in Idaho. His $33.5 billion plan focuses on breaching four dams on the lower Snake River to help salmon and steelhead recovery.
Simpson called this plan one of the most massive restoration plans ever, it comes with a hefty price tag, but it's because this is the first plan to put a monetary value on the four dams.
These dams produce renewable hydroelectric power, and these dams are important for shipping products in the pacific northwest, and this issue has passionate people on both sides of the argument.
For organizations who have been fighting for salmon recovery, they tell us this plan gives them more hope about the future than they've had in a very long time.
"In the 30 years that Idaho Rivers United has worked on this issue, it is easily the most important and boldest step that has ever been taken," said Nic Evans of Idaho Rivers United.
So far, conservation groups, Native American tribes, guides, outfitters, anglers and other groups with similar interests have all come out to support Representative Simpson's plan.
"It really showcases culturally, and what salmon mean economically to the viability of the state and this region," said Evans. "They just don't exist here, they are part of the legacy of Idaho."
However, the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation and farmers from other states as well as the Port of Lewiston, all have their doubts as the river provides a shipping channel to the ocean.
"We ship about two million bushels of wheat to Portland every year, so this is very concerning," said Richard Durrant, a farmer who lives in the Treasure Valley. "It provides a needed infrastructure that in my mind can't be replaced. One barge is equal to 120 semi loads of wheat."
According to the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, it would take 35,000 rail cars or 135,000 semi-trucks to carry all the cargo barges currently take down the river.
Congressman Simpson's plan includes $1.5 billion specifically for grain transportation, it's one piece of a gigantic puzzle aimed at helping everybody who would be affected by breaching the dams.
Still, farmers like Durrant worry about the cost not so much in the short term but in the future when their children and grandchildren take over their farm.
Congressman Simpson responded with an op-ed on Thursday titled "Agriculture Matters," he hopes people opposed to his plan will take a closer look at his efforts to make everybody whole.
"If there are issues or things we can do better, I want them to contact us," said Simpson. "But if we are going to save the salmon, we looked at this and said is there a way we could keep the dams and still save salmon? We couldn't find an alternative that would allow us to do that."