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Indian burial grounds, fishing rights and animal habitat are ongoing discussions, and we need to deal with those conundrums, says Forest Grove's mayor.

MAYOR PETE TRUAXThe Bonneville Power Administration was created in 1937 to do a number of things. Most visibly, Congress acted to create low cost electricity across the Pacific Northwest. Using the Columbia River system, the BPA built dams for the creation of the electricity and then built a system to transmit that power across the region.

There were other items on the agenda, however. The dams provided flood control, keeping the Columbia, the Snake and other rivers within their banks. And that water was also used for irrigation, effectively turning eastern Washington and portions of Oregon and Idaho from scabland into fertile farmland, feeding the world.

And, beyond all that, the program provided jobs at a time when they were most needed.

The legacy of Congress, enacted 80 years ago, is that low-cost power is available throughout the Northwest and, sometimes, so abundantly that excess power could be sold to other parts of the country.

Forest Grove Light and Power's own rich history has benefited from its business relationship with BPA. As a public utility, FGL&P uses the money it generates to purchase power, provide service, maintain its part of the grid and promote the interests of Forest Grove. There are no investors that need to see profit dividends. This keeps our raters lower than neighboring investor-owned utilities. And, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think Grovers like it like that.

Our concern comes about due to President Trump's proposed budget. In his proposal, the President supports the selling of transmission systems of three major power supply systems. The rationale is that action would remove the cost of those lines from the Energy Department and the purchaser, whoever that might be, would take over the cost of running the system. Again, the President's spokesman says this would remove the cost of such a system from federal concern and place it in private hands. To be blunt, there is really no upside to such an action.

First, Forest Grove and other customers of BPA have always opposed the market rate system of transmission cost. Basically, this is where the manager of the system sells the service by bid. Currently, BPA is authorized to sell the transmission service at cost. Moving from "cost" to "market rate" is not cost effective to Forest Grove. That uncertainty to Light and Power translates into uncertainty for the consumer.

Second, the sale would be a sell-off of something bought and paid for by the people of the Northwest in order to fund the federal government. Paying a utility bill should pay for electricity and delivery of same; it should not pay for line items in the federal budget.

Third — and while this may not directly affect Forest Grove — we are truly in this together. Rural systems far from the source of power could face inadequate maintenance and back-breaking rate increases, again because of market factors. Our friends through the Northwest deserve our support.

In 1936, Woody Guthrie wrote:

Roll on, Columbia, roll on.

Roll on, Columbia, roll on.

Your power is turning darkness to dawn.

Roll on, Columbia, roll on.

We have continuing issues with the Columbia River and with the BPA: Indian burial grounds, fishing rights and animal habitat are ongoing discussions. We need to deal with these conundrums.

But the BPA and its steady supply of electricity has forever changed the face of the Pacific Northwest. To roll back that change, to genuflect to the power of the purse, will not solve our critical issues. We need to remember, and honor, Woody Guthrie's words:

Your power is turning darkness to dawn.

Roll on, Columbia, roll on.

Pete Truax, a retired educator, is the mayor of Forest Grove.

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