Creation of Bonneville Dam Project and Bonneville Power Administration

On August 20th 1937 President Roosevelt signed the Bonneville Project Act "for the purpose of improving navigation on the Columbia River" (United States BPA, 30). The creation of the Bonneville Dam had been on the minds of farmers, businessmen, and politicians since the Washington State Legislature financed a survey of the Columbia River for potential irrigation projects in 1919. Less than ten years later the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Power Commission published the "308 Report" which gave recommendations for improved water infrastructure along the Columbia River which would encourage economic development in the area. After the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam, built for the purpose of flood control, as recommended by the "308 Report," navigation, and irrigation, attention turned to the Bonneville Dam site (Fisher, 30).

In addition to navigation purposes, the dam was built to generate large amounts of energy for the benefit of the general public. After more than two years of dispute over who should market and sell the energy, this Act delegated responsibilities to two bodies: the Bonneville Power Administration, or BPA, and the Army Corps of Engineers. The Bonneville Power Administration was created as part of the Department of the Interior in order to sell and distribute the power created by the dam in addition to preventing monopolization, a phenomenon common to the energy business. The energy was to be sold at wholesale rates. In November 1937, J. D. Ross was appointed the first Bonneville Power Administrator. Under his supervision the BPA hired staff, formed its policies, built miles of transmission lines, appointed a Bonneville Advisory Board, set rates, and held public hearings. As a direct consequence of its public relations, many grass roots groups supported the BPA (Fisher, 35). The other key player in the creation of the Bonneville Dam, the Army Corps of Engineers, controls the operation of the dam by the Act of 1937.

While the creation of the dam gave a sense of hope to its surrounding community, it also negatively affected the Native American Populations whose culture had developed around the Columbia River. In addition to delegating different tasks to different groups, the Act also gave the facility administrator (under the control of the United States Department of Energy) the authority to take any steps necessary to complete the dam and ensure its efficiency, "by purchase, lease, condemnation, or donation" (United States BPA, 32). The decisions regarding the disposal of personal property rested solely on the judgement of the dam's administrator. This clause of the Act made the destruction of forty traditional Indian fishing sites as well as homes and towns possible.

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