Editorials

Would breaching dams ruin the Tri-Cities cruise industry? We should know more | Editorial

The unexpected closure of a lock at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River is delaying the barging of wheat and other goods.

And it’s also hurting the river cruise industry that thrives on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

The loss of tourism in September alone in the Clarkston and Lewiston communities is expected to be at least a half million dollars, said Port of Clarkston Manager Wanda Keefer.

And because cruise ships traveling between Vancouver and Clarkston also stop in Richland, Keefer suspects the Bonneville shutdown is affecting the Tri-Cities region.

But it’s hard to know the impact because the Herald could find no agency in the Tri-Cities that tracks the economic impact of river tours in the community.

We suggest someone starts.

A privately funded anti-dam report by Seattle-based ECONorthwest released last July is being used as justification by others who say our region does not need the Snake River dams.

“It’s not even close: Economics says the Snake River dams should go,” is the title of a series written and circulated this week by the Sightline Institute of Seattle.

Those writers base their arguments on the ECONorthwest report, which we have said is so flawed it shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Many blasted the “study” when it came out, and Reps. Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, both R-Wash., called it a “slap in the face of our state’s agriculture economy.”

Among other things, the report ludicrously suggested that farmers and other economic “losers” from dam removal could instead get new jobs as dam busters.

Nevertheless, the ECONorthwest report continues to be promoted as a legitimate economic guide to how our region can manage without the dams.

The closure at Bonneville, while unfortunate, provides a reality check on how critical both rivers are to our region and state.

The navigation lock at the Bonneville Dam was closed Sept. 5 after operators detected problems and eventually found cracked concrete. Repairs are being made and there’s hope the lock will reopen Sept. 30.

In addition to a major backup in river barge traffic, some cruise ships have canceled tours.

Port of Clarkston officials expected 2,250 cruise ship passengers would visit their area in September, arriving on seven ships operated by four cruise lines.

But only two, the American Empress and the American Pride, were upstream from the lock at Bonneville when it closed and could adjust to the situation.

Keefer said the estimated $500,000 loss to her community this month is conservative, and she would guess that the loss to the Tri-Cities could be at least $250,000.

We would like to know if she is right.

Our community should know how the cruise ship business affects the Tri-Cities economy, but because passengers only stop here and don’t check in to hotel rooms, it is difficult to track.

Carl Adrian, president and CEO of the Tri-City Industrial Council, said he plans on working with staff at Visit Tri-Cities to find a way to calculate it.

The American Empress, for example, regularly docks in Richland’s Howard Amon Park.

Passengers are then bused to a variety of destinations, including the Reach Museum, Pasco Farmers Market, Hanford’s B Reactor and wine tours at Red Mountain.

We don’t know how much wine they buy, or if there are Tri-City restaurants and shops that benefit from their visit, but it would be helpful to find out.

The more hard numbers we have on how the Snake River dams benefit our region, the better the community can counter those who say it makes economic sense to get rid of them.

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