Hundreds celebrate Bonneville Dam’s 75th anniversary

NORTH BONNEVILLE — Hundreds of people gathered this weekend to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the dedication of the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.

The event Saturday included honored guests arriving in a motorcade of 1930s-era cars, The Columbian reported in Sunday’s newspaper. The Bonneville Dam was the first of 31 federal dams on the Columbia Basin, including 11 on the Columbia River.

The Bonneville Power Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers marked the anniversary of the dam’s dedication with a tribute to the landmark hydroelectric facility. During a ceremony, a Franklin Roosevelt impersonator, Gary Stamm, delivered the same speech the president gave at Bonneville Dam’s dedication in 1937.

“Truly in the construction of the dam,” Roosevelt had said. “we have had our eyes on the future of the nation.”

Federal and local officials, Native American tribal leaders, members of Congress and hundreds of American-flag-waving visitors attended the ceremony.

BPA administrator Steve Wright, who will retire in January, called Bonneville and other dams an essential part of the Northwest’s identity and history. Life in the region today would be “unrecognizable” without the facilities and the cheap, clean power they provide, he said.

Wright noted the work the BPA and others are doing to restore fish populations decimated by dams and other changes on the Columbia, to “right the wrongs” of previous decades, he said. Yakama tribal leader Gerald Lewis mentioned the now-gone Celilo Falls fishing grounds. He described the historic native camps along the river that vanished after the dams arrived — even as he noted the benefits they’ve provided.

Before the event, conservation organization Save Our Wild Salmon released a statement criticizing the BPA’s record on fish restoration.

“While Bonneville celebrates,” the group said, “the salmon are not.”

Vancouver resident Dan Ogden, who attended the dedication in 1937 as a teenager, said he doesn’t have any particular memories of the dam from that time. But his research as a University of Chicago doctoral student in the 1940s brought him in close contact with the BPA and its mission, he said.

The BPA model as a federal power-marketing agency has served the region well and should continue, he said.

“Electricity is a public resource that should be (distributed) for the public, by the public, at cost,” Ogden said.

Almost all of the speakers paid tribute to the beauty and power of the Columbia River, and the fuel it provides. Wright ended his remarks with a familiar refrain, quoting songwriter Woody Guthrie: “Roll on, Columbia. Roll on.”

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