Sunday, April 17, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Colville Tribes OK Settlement Over Grand Coulee Dam Losses


NESPELEM, Okanogan County - Members of the Colville Confederated Tribes voted 2,191 to 154 yesterday to approve a multimillion-dollar settlement with the federal government over use of tribal lands lost to Grand Coulee Dam.

The Colvilles will receive a lump-sum payment of $53 million and annual payments of at least $15.25 million beginning in 1996.

The votes came at a general tribal-membership meeting.

"This was an issue that really captured the heart of the tribal membership," Chairman Eddie Palmanteer said in a written statement.

"Tribal members came from literally all over the country to vote on this important issue."

The Colville confederation has 7,700 enrolled members from 13 Central Washington tribes and bands.

The settlement acknowledges the tribes are owed a portion of revenues from the Grand Coulee hydroelectric project on the Columbia River. The dam flooded traditional villages and wiped out tribal salmon fisheries after its completion in the early 1940s.

If members are to receive an equal share of the settlement, it would mean about $6,800 for each person immediately and at least $1,965 a year. The yearly payments would be tied to the price and production of electricity and the consumer price index.

"No amount of money can truly compensate the tribes and its members, especially our elders, for the way of life that Grand Coulee Dam took away, and to that extent the settlement is inadequate," Palmanteer said.

"But because the settlement is structured to provide continuing benefits for our children, the settlement is one that we had to take."

In 1992, the Bonneville Power Administration estimated Grand Coulee Dam produced $412 million worth of electricity. Water pumped from Lake Roosevelt, the dam's reservoir, feeds the 500,000-acre Columbia Basin irrigation project, but none goes to tribal reservation lands.

Construction of the dam, which began in the 1930s, flooded thousands of acres of tribal land and destroyed 1,400 miles of salmon spawning tributaries.

The dam was built without fish ladders.

The tribes were paid $60,000 for the land, but leaders claimed they should be compensated for electrical power created from their riverbed. The government had contended it needed the Columbia riverbed for navigation and thus did not have to compensate the tribes.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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