Council's response to Bonneville’s FY 2007-09 project funding decision

Mr. Greg Delwiche
Vice President, Environment, Fish and Wildlife
Bonneville Power Administration
P.O. Box 3621
Portland, Oregon 97208

Dear Greg:

The Council has carefully considered many aspects of Bonneville’s response to the Council project funding recommendations for FY 2007-09. We have serious concerns about the FY 2007-09 decision process, the number of changes Bonneville made to Council funding recommendations, and several policy issues. Though we appreciate your recent efforts to resolve some of these problems, we need to address these concerns either before initiation of FY 2008 budget preparation or through the Council’s program amendment process.

In the future, Bonneville must be more involved from the start in the Council’s extensive public process and scientific reviews for project funding. This problem is similar to a concern that arose during the provincial review process in 2001-03 when Bonneville and the Council asked NOAA Fisheries to identify early which proposed projects implemented the off-site mitigation, monitoring and evaluation “reasonable and prudent alternatives” in the 2000 Biological Opinion. As in the earlier ESA implementation dilemma, the Council encourages Bonneville to identify conflicts between its policies and proposed projects much earlier in the project review process. This will be critically important as Bonneville responds to the remand process and the new biological opinion that will require Bonneville to consider once again ESA implementation priorities that may compete for available fish and wildlife funding.

The Council provided interim funding recommendations in some areas where we believe more work is required. These areas included coordination funding, monitoring and evaluation, 

data management, and wildlife operation and management. We welcome Bonneville’s cooperation in helping us to develop coordinated funding plans in these areas. However, we do not support Bonneville’s unilateral action to “reinvent” solutions to these problems by assigning arbitrary funding caps. While we share Bonneville’s goal of increasing the effectiveness of the program and spending money on the ground, we believe that success will require a deliberative, open process that develops a clear plan for priority spending in each area. Until this work is completed, we cannot possibly know the appropriate budgets for these actions. We believe that cooperation between the Council and Bonneville is an important prerequisite for making progress on these issues.

The Council also made a specific request to Bonneville in an effort to resolve the problem with inadequate project reporting. According to the Independent Scientific Review Panel, more than 40 percent of ongoing projects inadequately report results. The Council addressed this issue in a specific recommendation to Bonneville in October 2006. The Council requests a report on what steps Bonneville has taken to address the issue. In addition, the Council requires confirmation from Bonneville that the proposals submitted, reviewed by the ISRP, and then recommended for funding by the Council correspond to the work ultimately contracted by Bonneville.

In its decision letter, Bonneville raised several policy issues, including the “in lieu” policy and “nexus” limits of the Federal Columbia River Power System responsibilities. The Council continues to have serious reservations about the way Bonneville interprets the “in lieu” provision of the Northwest Power Act and determines the “nexus” of the FCRPS’s “responsibility.” We recognize that these are important issues to resolve, and we commit to working with Bonneville and the region to improve and refine these policies. As with all policies that are important to the Council’s program, we believe they should be developed through regional discussion, with regional input, through the Council’s upcoming amendment process.

In the Council’s recommendations, we noted that additional project funding would be necessary for biological opinion projects, and we reserved funding for that purpose. As these project lists are developed, we are aware that not all of the new biological opinion projects have undergone independent science review. We will direct the ISRP to review additional biological opinion projects to ensure that they are scientifically sound. The Council will also provide comments or recommendations on these projects as necessary.

Much work remains to develop a start-of-year budget for FY 2008. In particular, the Council is focused on finalizing recommendations in the areas mentioned earlier in this letter and reviewing any new projects for the biological opinion. We expect Bonneville to confirm the amount of planning money that is committed and the amount still available. We also need to come to a final understanding with Bonneville about the rules or restrictions that apply to those funds. In making recommendations for the FY 2008 budget, the Council intends to continue to rely on our current recommendations and, to the extent additional funds are available, to draw first from the pool of projects already reviewed.

We look forward to re-establishing a strong working relationship with Bonneville and continuing to improve our progress toward recovering and enhancing fish and wildlife populations in the Columbia River Basin.

Sincerely,

Tom Karier, Chair

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