Bonneville Dam, BPA celebrate 75 years

Historical exhibits, vintage cars, music will be included in event Saturday

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter



If you go

What: 75th anniversary celebration at Bonneville Dam.

Where: Bonneville Dam, Bradford Island Visitor Center, near Cascade Locks, Ore.

When: Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15.

Parking: Visitors are encouraged to park at the Washington Shore Visitor Center, then take a free shuttle to the event.

Count a former president among the dignitaries expected to attend this weekend's 75th anniversary tribute to the Bonneville Dam.

Well, sort of: Gary Stamm, a Franklin D. Roosevelt impersonator, will lend his voice to the event. Stamm will read from the remarks that FDR delivered at the dedication of the landmark hydroelectric facility in 1937, part of a re-enactment of the historic day. The speech will kick off a four-hour celebration of the dam and the agency that helped reshape the region's energy landscape.

"It allowed us to basically begin electrifying the entire Northwest," said Mike Hansen, a spokesman with the Bonneville Power Administration.

Bonneville Dam was dedicated the same year its namesake agency was founded by the federal Bonneville Project Act. It was the first of 11 federal dams now operating on the Columbia River, and — along with Grand Coulee Dam — was among the biggest regional power suppliers to the massive war effort that began a few years after its opening.

This Saturday, Sept. 15, BPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will stage an elaborate gathering to reflect on the dam's legacy and its future. The free public event will include live music, refreshments, historical exhibits, even a motorcade of vintage 1930s-era cars, Hansen said. Four members of Congress from Washington and Oregon are expected to attend, plus regional tribal leaders, outgoing BPA chief executive Steve Wright, and other federal executives.

The gathering won't always evoke a celebratory mood, Hansen said. Even with new energy possibilities, the arrival of hydroelectric dams wasn't welcome news for everyone — particularly Native American tribes who call the Columbia Basin home and depended on its resources.

"We're also recognizing that these benefits did not come without a cost and without consequences for people and the environment," Hansen said.

Bonneville Dam has seen a number of changes for fish passage and river navigation over the years, Hansen said. It's also helped facilitate the development of other energy sources, he said, particularly the wind farms now pumping electricity into the Northwest power grid.

Visitors at Saturday's event will gather at the Bradford Island Visitor Center. Activities will begin at noon and conclude by 4 p.m., according to BPA,

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541;;