Undoing a dam is expensive

  Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and the National Park Service want to tear down two dams on the Elwha River in Washington's Olympic National Park. But White House budget director Leon Panetta says the federal government can't afford it. A Park Service study found that removing the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams is the best way to help rebuild locally declining salmon fisheries. Demolishing the dams alone is relatively cheap: $60 to $80 million. The big costs come from cleaning up afterwards, which could take 20 years. Drawdown tests of the Elwha Reservoir in April revealed a mountain of sediment behind the dam that has accumulated over the last 70 years. The Park Service report lists nine options to deal with the sediment, ranging from dredging and hauling it away to stabilizing it in place with rock, trees and wire mesh. Costs for the nine options vary from $150 to $300 million. On the other hand, the agency says project expenses may be offset by reviving the area's commercial fishing industry. While neither the White House nor Congress have agreed to the plan, they have budgeted $3.5 million for a draft environmental impact statement.

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