BPA administrator Steve Wright, who will retire in January, called Bonneville and other dams an essential part of the Northwest’s identity and history. Life in the region today would be “unrecognizable” without the facilities and the cheap, clean power they provide, he said.
Of course, the arrival of hydroelectric facilities to the Columbia Basin was not celebrated by everyone. Wright noted the work the BPA and others are doing to restore fish populations decimated by dams and other changes on the Columbia, to “right the wrongs” of previous decades, he said. Yakama tribal leader Gerald Lewis mentioned the now-gone Celilo Falls fishing grounds. He described the historic native camps along the river that vanished after the dams arrived — even as he noted the benefits they’ve provided.
Save Our Wild Salmon, a conservation organization, released a statement before Saturday’s event that criticized the BPA’s track record on fish restoration.
“While Bonneville celebrates,” the group said, “the salmon are not.”
Among the visitors at the gathering were Vancouver residents Dan and Val Ogden. Dan Ogden, a teenager when Bonneville Dam was dedicated in 1937, said he doesn’t have any particular memories of the dam from that time. But his research as a University of Chicago doctoral student in the 1940s brought him in close contact with the BPA and its mission, he said. Ogden went on to a career that included stops at the U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Public Power Council, among others. The BPA model as a federal power-marketing agency has served the region well and should continue, he said.
“Electricity is a public resource that should be (distributed) for the public, by the public, at cost,” Ogden said.