Writings and observations

Carlson: Hough and the dams

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

For years millions of radio listeners were tantalized each noon hour by the news and personal interpretations of the great radio commentator, Paul Harvey. He would throw out a nugget to tease his listener before a commercial break and then come back with “and now, for the rest of the story.”

That thought, and an old saying – “success has a thousand fathers, failure is a bastard” – came to mind as I read recent reports regarding removal of the dams on the Olympic peninsula’s Elwha River.

On June 1, the process of shutting off generators in the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dam powerhouses began. This will lead to dismantling the two dams that have blocked the return of once bountiful salmon and steelhead runs following construction of the projects shortly after Woodrow Wilson was elected to the presidency in 1912.

Restoration of these salmon runs and acknowledgment of their centrality to the religion of the indigenous native American Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, is the primary driver for this historic action.

It is the largest dam removal project in American history, will take three years to accomplish and cost America’s taxpayers $325 million. While there will be many who claim parentage, some with legitimacy, such as the tribe and the advocacy group American Rivers, much of the credit should go to a former aide to Governor Cecil Andrus: John D. Hough.

Hough first hooked on with Andrus as campaign press secretary during Andrus’ successful 1970 governorship race. Adept and imaginative at generating coverage for candidate Andrus, once in office Hough chafed at the “baby-sitting the media” role called for in a press secretary.

Hough’s true love was and is resource policy. He convinced Andrus to make him his natural resource aide. Eventually, Andrus made him chief of staff. Before then, though, Hough left fingerprints on a number of successful resource protection issues.

For example, Hough led initial designations for several Idaho rivers as “wild and scenic,” including stretches of the St. Joe, and the Snake River, where it flowed through Hells Canyon. Hough also worked closely with Andrus to obtain National Recreation Area designations for Hells Canyon and the Sawtooths.

He further played a key role ensuring the Chamberlain Basin was included in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, and off-limits to timber interests that lusted after the area. Success here brought the undying enmity of Boise-Cascade.

Hough has several passions and ranked only slightly behind wife Ellen and their four children is he loves to fish, especially for salmon and steelhead. Now semi-retired and living on the Kitsap Peninsula, Hough fishes often, and loves to torture friends with snapshots of his latest catch.

Despite his key role in the Andrus administration, Hough chose not to accompany the Governor to Washington, D.C., in 1977. Rather, he became Western Field Director for the new Interior Secretary, a role he relished.

One issue Hough focused on was removing the Elwha dams and restoring the salmon runs. He saw an opportunity to demonstrate that it could be done. With the assistance of his deputy, Dave McCraney, and a willing accomplice in Olympic National Park Superintendent Roger Contor, as well as strong support from Andrus’ assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, Forrest Gerard, Hough set about the gargantuan task of orchestrating and mobilizing public support to obtain congressional authorization to remove the dams.

His flair for publicity was immeasurably helpful in drawing media attention to the issue and generating support. He worked tirelessly with all interest groups including American Rivers and the Sierra Club. Ultimately, he was the indispensable element that set in motion the process which culminated after Carter left office in congressional authorization to remove the dams.

Ironically, a year before the end of Andrus’ tenure at Interior, Hough became northwest governmental affairs director for ITT, the huge conglomerate that owned the Rayonier Pulp Mill in Port Angeles, the prime recipient of power produced by the Elwha projects. To his credit he continued his campaign for dam removal, convincing his superiors it was in ITT’s long-term interests to support dam removal.

Twenty years after Congress said get started the process is finally underway. As I read news accounts my thoughts turned to John. From afar I said, “Take a bow, Hough. That’s one for you!” And now you know . . . . . . . the rest of the story.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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