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Idaho Legislature considers $13.1 million federal grant for sockeye salmon hatchery on reservoir

The Aberdeen Times of Aberdeen, Idaho

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Lawmaker says Springfield hatchery won't necessarily be economically 'significant' to Bingham County

BOISE - Two southeastern Idaho lawmakers agree that the Idaho Legislature is likely to let the state's fish and game agency spend $13.1 million in federal funds to build a sock-eye salmon hatchery oh the north side of the American Falls Reservoir in Bingham County.

But Sen. Stan Bair, R-Blackfoot, initially said he expected that any economic gains for Bingham County as a result of the potential project would be insignificant.

"I don't think it'll be significant to Bingham County," Bair said on Thursday morning, Feb. 9.

On Friday morning, Feb. 10, Bair elaborated on his viewpoint, pointing out that who might be selected as the project's ultimate construction contractor could make a big difference.

"Well, other than construction costs, I don't know what there is," Bair said. "So, if they hire somebody locally, then Bingham County will benefit. But they don't have to hire anybody locally. I hope they do. They can hire somebody out of Pocatello or Idaho Falls as well." Bair further clarified: "I'm saying, it may or may not benefit Bingham County directly (economically). I hope it does. But, it depends on who the department (Idaho Department of Fish and Game) decides to hire as the contractors, right?"

Bair, a member of the Legislature's Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC), agreed with Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, that the Idaho Legislature would likely grant perfunctory approval for the Springfield project's federal spending.

"I don't see a problem, because it's the federal funds that come from the salmon settlements that have happened," Bair said. "I don't think there's any state dollars involved there."

If that line item in the IDFG budget moves forward as some lawmakers expect, the Springfield project would be funded by federal fish and wildlife mitigation money through the Bonneville Power Administration.

"Any time that (federal) funds come in, it does require spending authority (from the state)", said Wood on Wednesday, Feb. 8. "That's all. The money is already there, but the Legislature has to approve the expenditure of those moneys. So, that's all that needs." Although Wood said he hadn't examined the specifics of the proposed Springfield sockeye salmon hatchery project, he indicated that he agreed with the idea in principle.

"Typically, fish hatchery projects are good things," said Wood, also a JFAC member. "I mean, the community likes em', it puts out fish, et cetera. I mean, you know, to my knowledge, people like fish hatcheries. I mean, they really do. So, I can't imagine a controversial one."

Part of a $60 million federal salmon settlement endorsed in 2008 by Idaho Republican Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, the $13.1 million would be spent on demolition of an existing, former commercial fish hatchery on the site, and construction phases for the new facility.

Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, who is working directly on the Idaho Department of Fish and Game budget in the Legislature's joint budget committee, also said the $13.1 million project likely will be approved. "It's not that unusual of a request," Brackett said. "You know, we've had those upgrades before."

Brackett added: "The budgets don't routinely (go through) but those line items like that, it'd be safe to say, yeah, that they do (pass) routinely. There's not state

money, or very little, and most of it's pass-through (dollars). And, basically all we would be doing would be providing spending author-ity."

"I expect that it'll be approved," Brackett said JFAC's budget-setting process begins Feb. 20, Brackett said. The Springfield hatchery brings IDFG's smolt production capacity to 1 million sockeye salmon smolts annually, IDFG Director Virgil Moore said in an interview. Currently Idaho hatcheries have the capacity to produce 200,000 sockeye salmon smolts per year, according to Moore.

Still, the full production time frame for the proposed Springfield hatchery may be five to six years out, Moore said during a Jan. 31 interview.

"We're two years from getting the hatchery done," Moore said. "Another year to get the bugs worked out

of it, and, then, another two to three years for the fish to get produced and in the system before you get them back as adults. So, it's ... a ways out."

IDFG received $838,700 in federal funding during the state budget year ending June 30 for Springfield's personnel, planning, design, and compliance work, according to a legislative budget book. Moore said he hopes construction will begin at Springfield during the second half of this year.

"And, then, do construction all of 2013; hopefully wrap that up (in 2013) or-early 2014, and start putting; some fish in it, if everything-went as planned," Moore; said. "And, you know how construction is. Obviously,; you may or may not make that. But that's our hope." Moore said the $13.1 million IDFG line item for Springfield would increase the agency's budget by 20 percent.

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Original Publication Date: February 15, 2012

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