BPA and Bonneville Dam turn 75

President Franklin D. Roosevelt returned to Bonneville Dam Saturday to recite the historic speech he gave 75 years ago to dedicate the facility on the Columbia River, the most powerful river in North America.

Played by Gary Stamm, an actor known as Roosevelt’s foremost impersonator, President Roosevelt delivered his address to hundreds of flag-waving Northwesterners at the Bradford Island Visitor Center at Bonneville Dam. FDR, accompanied by his dog Fala, arrived in a motorcade of more than 20 vintage automobiles from the 1930s.

The Sept. 15 event marked the 75th anniversary of the completion of the dam as well as the founding of the Bonneville Power Administration.

President Roosevelt was followed on the podium by U.S. Representative Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore.; U.S. Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler, R-Wash.; BPA Administrator Steve Wright; Col. Anthony Funkhouser, commander, Northwestern Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and Lori Faeth, deputy assistant secretary for Policy and International Affairs, Bureau of Reclamation. A message of congratulations from President Barack Obama was read by BPA Deputy Administrator Bill Drummond.

Northwest tribes, represented by Roy Sampsel from the Institute for Tribal Government at Portland State University, also played a major role in the event. They celebrated the return of salmon to the Columbia River with an authentic salmon bake and other ceremonies. Construction of hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River endangered salmon and other fish and wildlife. But today in a spirit of partnership, the tribes and federal agencies, once mired in litigious conflict, have created the largest ecosystem restoration program in the world.

The day’s activities included entertainment, tours of the dam and educational activities for kids of all ages.

Wright told the crowd – which included BPA employees, customers, partners and stakeholders – that Bonneville and other Columbia River federal dams are an essential part of the Northwest’s identity and history. Life in the region today would be “unrecognizable” without the facilities and the low-cost, clean power they provide, he said.

He concluded his remarks quoting a familiar refrain from songwriter Woody Guthrie, “Roll on, Columbia, roll on.”