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Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Fixing culverts is the next state-tribal legal battle

March 23rd, 2009 by cdunagan

It is truly astounding the number of state highways that have culverts which block or impair the passage of salmon. Would you believe almost every one has at least one problem culvert — and many highways have multiple blocking culverts?

Working together, the Department of Transportation and Department of Fish and Wildlife estimate that more than 1,800 culverts impair the passage of salmon and that 1,400 of them are keeping the fish from reaching significant salmon spawning grounds.

Western Washington Indian tribes have taken the position that the state has an obligation under the treaties to keep the culverts free, and there is an initial indication from the courts that they have a pretty case.

I covered this issue at some length in the Kitsap Sun on Sunday, after I realized this case appeared to be headed to trial. Negotiations between the state and the tribes will continue up until the trial, now scheduled for October. Depositions are being taken at a furious pace to get them done by October.

Can the state afford to fix the culverts, estimated to cost hundreds of millions of dollars? How soon should they be repaired? Should the tribes be patient in these hard economic times, or even help to fund the repairs?

The tribes will say that the state should been more careful when the culverts were first designed, and that they have been patient for many years.

My Sunday story has generated considerable comments. For example, here’s what dennybop says:

What the tribes are asking of the State in this case benefits all of us. It’s not surprising that almost every letter here that criticizes this plan don’t seem to address the issues, but the tribes in general. There is a knee-jerk response from many people any time the tribes and a State or local jurisdiction face a conflict.

Here’s part of what KitsapSon says:

If the tribes are entitled to 50% of the resource shouldn’t they also be responsible for 50% of the restoration? Especially considering their tax-free, monopolistic business advantages they have been given.

And here’s a thought from justjunkemail:

Sorry, I have no empathy for what occurred over one hundred plus years ago nor should the people of this and future generations be on the hook for the costs. The time has come to rid ourselves of treaties written 2 centuries ago and create a society where laws are equal for everyone.

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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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