Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Remembering Beginnings: Brock Evans on HCPC History

My personal recollections are that the HCPC was founded in 1967... same year as I was appointed to be the Sierra Club's and Federation of Western Outdoor Club's Northwest representative (March). I believe my first meeting with them (about September, 1967), referring to their "new" formation, is in my archives at the University of Washington Library.

Although there had certainly been opposition to Brownlee, Oxbow, and Hell's Canyon dams before that time, it was not effective and except for perhaps the Idaho Wildlife Federation, not very well-organized. That doesn't mean that there weren't precursors (in the form of opposition to dams in Hells Canyon); it just means that no such entity as HCPC per se, existed.

So my understanding when I came upon the scene in 1967 was like your own, Charlie -- the dam(n) builders built the easiest Snake River ones first -- easier politically for Idaho Power as a "private company" as well as logistically... it was when they attempted a project that affected three states, that the "public power" people challenged them, here).

Many of our kind of people then were also rightly fearful of the proposed Nez Perce Dam, just a mile or so below the confluence of the Snake and the Salmon -- because it would have drowned out the Lower Salmon gorges too. Somewhere around that time, the two applicants shifted the proposed site to High Mountain Sheep, just upstream of that confluence, I recall.  Anyone who floats down the Snake past that original site now can still see those white-painted initials way way up: "PNPC, Pacific Northwest Power Company" -- the private boys.

Last time I saw that one, coming off the Salmon and floating (with Ric Bailey's crew) out onto the great living Snake, he pointed out those initials to us -- and everyone got goosebumps. My own heart leapt, jumped for joy, that that is all that was left of such a monstrous river-destroying venture -- those initials, 5-600 feet above us.

I imagined then, with a shudder -- if that dam had been built, no one ever again would know what this place was like... instead of the songs of the canyon wrens, the grand play of early-morning
light and shadow on the cliffs, the murmur and tugs of a great living river at our boats, we instead would have all been in diving suits in the gloom of 500 feet of deadness above us. 

Someday, when everything else is safe and saved, I suggest we seek to preserve those initials -- as a kind of National Monument -- a memorial to the love, passion, and courage of our small bands, willing to stand and fight for it all, despite all the money and political power on the other side..

My first connection with the issue came in May 1967, while attending the meeting of the ExCom of the Pacific Northwest chapter of the Sierra Club (then comprising all the SC members in the four NW states -- things were so tenuous and so much smaller in those times), on Hood Canal, WA. To this meeting came one Floyd Harvey, river boat operator from Lewiston. He asked the Sierra Club for help, and I was directed -- "look into this Brock," etc.

I was very gloomy because, from my previous law practice, I knew that the legal case -- of WHO got to build the new dam, public or private power, was before the Supreme Court -- and it was the only issue -- who, not whether.  So, what could be done at this late date, when all seemed so, well, impossible? Remember there were no environmental laws at all then, no NEPA, no ESA, no nuthin'.

I have told the story before (in the Falcon, some years back), but I had not yet heard anything about any specific organization like HCPC dedicated to fighting this dam, which may only mean that my information wasn't very good. And I hadn't yet visited Idaho, part of my "territory." I know i would have certainly tried to contact them had I known, even though the legal situation seemed like grasping for straws. Remember, other Idaho stalwarts had just lost the battle over Dworshak Dam on the Clearwater, not to mention Hells Canyon, Oxbow, etc.

In those days, it was dam builder heaven wherever there still existed a free-flowing stretch of river... just as it was logger's heaven, wherever there were big trees.

So I was gloomy, depressed about that directive, to "investigate and do something about it..." Then in early June I noticed a short paragraph in my daily copy of the Lewiston Tribune, to the effect that Justice Wm. O Douglas had somehow persuaded his colleagues that "we cannot decide the issue of who gets to build this proposed dam until we first decide whether it is in the public interest to license any dam at all here..." Or words -- such wonderful words! to that effect.

Heresy! The dam-building juggernaut was in full force across the whole Northwest at the time; the idea of any dammable river being allowed to flow free was utter heresy -- nonsense.

But here was an opportunity, a tiny opening -- for us, at last, to DO something!... and not to belabor the story here, I filed a Petition of Intervention before the Federal Power Commission, and much to the disgust and disdain of the dam builders we were accepted into the case that September. While I was preparing the legal documents (July-August), I tried to find plaintiffs who would have some credibility, both within the court, and also in the public arena -- for we all knew that the legal action was just a precious delay... it was in the public/political forum where we would have to finally save it...  if we could. I couldn't file such a case in my own name.

The problem was that then, in those far-off times, enviro legal actions were little understood. I had to explain to the Presidents of the Sierra Club and FWOC what a plaintiff was! And had to have someone from Idaho, to satisfy the local credibility question.. But that summer, not yet having heard of HCPC, the only group I knew of from the state who would likely respond was the Idaho Alpine Club, based in Idaho Falls. They signed on too, that August.

As things grew more and more serious, and it looked like we just might have a chance to build a real campaign, I thought to myself -- "I'd better get over there and have a look." So I first visited the Canyon in early September, was stunned by the beauty and magnificence of the place. And it was around that time that I believe I met some folks from what they told me was the newly-formed HCPC... probably including Jack, Jim Campbell, Jerry Jayne, Russ Mager, Pete Henault... all of whom, and so many more over the years -- Russ Brown, Boyd Norton, come to mind, Ken Witty... and of course Jack, a lion of a man always out front whenever the issue was raised -- assumed the grassroots political leadership, on the ground, which was so crucial to our final successes in the 70s. Especially re Congressman Al Ullman, Senator Frank Church, and Bob Packwood... and neutralizing Senators Len Jordan and Mark Hatfield.  What a grand bunch of comrades to have by anyone's side, I have always felt. 

Those were very hot and heavy times, especially in Eastern OR, where no one will be surprised to know that dam-building sentiment was higher there than anywhere else. So it took really brave people, like Jack, Ken Witty, Carmelita Holland, bless them every one, to stand up and be counted in those scary times. 

And as it turned out, those same leaders of the Idaho Alpine Club who signed my Petition of Intervention turned out to be the very core, the heart and soul of the HCPC which they had just formed, too! One of the finest and happiest results in all my campaigning experiences.

So that's my recollection of how it all began in my memory. Whatever there may have been before, the Hells Canyon Preservation Council came to be in 1967 as I have always understood it, from working with those on the ground in those times. It's possible that my archives on the Hells Canyon struggle, housed in the University of Washington Library's Special Collections, may shed more light on the matter.

Sorry for such a long tome, but I felt that some of you would enjoy the context.
Best wishes, Brock

HCPC is proud to have Brock Evans on the Hells Canyon Preservation Council Board of Directors

No comments:

Post a Comment