A savage SLAPP suit

  A "conspiracy" exists to destroy the Savage Rapids Dam in Oregon, say Oregon residents who are suing Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, the Oregon governor, 15 state and federal agencies and 10 environmental groups. "If the preservationists win here, they'll want to go after all the dams in the state," said John DeZell, attorney and founder of the Association to Save Savage Rapids Dam and Lake. The group wants to stop the impending destruction of the 72-year-old dam on the Rogue River and force the federal government to write an environmental impact statement. Organizers with the Oregon Natural Resources Council, which is named first among the 51 defendants, say the case really is an attempt to intimidate environmental reformers and win publicity for plaintiffs John DeZell and Jim Newkirk. Both are campaigning for the U.S. Congress on anti-environmental tickets. "The suit is clearly intended to harass us and mute our ability to talk about an important public issue," council spokesman Jim Middaugh told the Associated Press. Middaugh helped run the campaign to lobby for the removal of Savage Rapids Dam. Ironically, one of the defendants is the Grants Pass Irrigation District, which owns the dam. The district board reluctantly voted last February to tear the dam down as the cheapest way to restore the Rogue River's declining salmon runs and keep the fish off the endangered species list (HCN, 2/7/94).