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Washington plans to raise fees for dam inspections

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Washington Dept. of Ecology
A Dam breach piping failure in Walla Walla County.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The Northwest is known for its big hydroelectric dams. But across the region there are also hundreds of smaller non-hydro dams. Some of them hold back water, but others retain dairy waste or sewage.

In Washington, the operators of these structures could soon pay more in annual fees to cover the cost of inspections.

Ben Bonkowski runs the state’s dam safety program. He says there are 380 "high hazard" dams in Washington that, if breached, could unleash catastrophe.

"The worst case scenario is we want to head off -- a failure of a dam that would result in the folks downstream losing their lives," Bonkowski says. "And secondarily we want to protect property as well."

Bonkowski says current inspection fees cover less than 20 percent of the cost to run Washington's dam safety program.

So now the Department of Ecology is proposing what could amount to a 40 percent hike in dam inspection fees. The move follows legislative approval earlier this year.

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Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.