Commentary: A win-win for tribe and power users

This editorial appeared in The (Tacoma) News Tribune.

Win-win: That's the kind of solution we need more of. It's the kind of solution Tacoma Public Utilities and the Skokomish Indian Tribe appear headed for in their dispute over the Cushman dams.

Both sides deserve to win.

It’s easy to sympathize with the Indians' legal claims against the two dams and TPU. When the dams were completed in 1926 and 1930, they devastated the North Fork of the Skokomish River on the eastern edge of the Olympic National Park. As its name suggests, the river runs through the tribe’s reservation.

Back then, Indian treaties were often honored in the breach, and migrating salmon hardly weighed against the economic benefits of a dam. The Cushman Hydroelectric Project dried up the North Fork and put an end to its salmon runs.

The tribe filed its first lawsuit in 1930, and it’s been fighting for compensation ever since. In 1998, it filed a claim for $5.8 billion in damages. It appeared quite willing to see the two dams shut down for good.

Yet it's easy to sympathize with TPU, too. It was playing by the lawful rules of the game – however unfair – when it built the dams. Their inexpensive electrons became the foundation of the TPU's power portfolio. To this day, they generate enough carbon-free electricity to power 25,000 homes.

To read the complete editorial, visit The (Tacoma) News Tribune.