Breaking News
More () »

Billions at stake for Washington taxpayers in salmon 'culverts case'

Washington could pay an estimated $2 billion to rebuild more than 800 culverts by the year 2030.
Credit: mel-nik
Close-up shot of a fish hook underwater. (ThinkStockPhotos)

Lawyers for the State of Washington will tell the United States Supreme Court justices on Wednesday that it will cost taxpayers billions of dollars if the justices uphold a lower court ruling.

Oral arguments are scheduled before the high court for Wednesday afternoon in what has become known as the “culverts case” – an order by Seattle Federal Judge Ricardo S. Martinez to make alterations to hundreds of roadway culverts beneath Washington roadways that hinder salmon migration.

The case began in 2001 when the federal government and 21 tribes sued Washington claiming that culverts, pipes that channel streams under state roads, block fish from swimming to their spawning grounds.

Judge Martinez ruled in favor of the tribes and ordered the state to replace more than 800 culverts with more fish-friendly designs by the year 2030.

The State of Washington estimated that it would cost nearly $2 billion to build those culverts, and argued that it was the federal government’s fault for specifying culvert design – not the state.

However, in 2016 the Ninth Circuit court of appeals upheld Judge Martinez’s decision setting up tomorrow’s showdown before the nation’s high court.

The tribes are involved in the litigation because they are legally entitled to half of the fishing catch allowed each year in Washington waterways.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson opposes the federal court rulings, saying that the state’s money would be better spent on other fixes that would save larger numbers of salmon.

“That makes no sense,” Ferguson said of the lower court’s rulings.

On Wednesday, the state will make that argument to the highest court in the land.

You can read the brief submitted by the federal government here.

Before You Leave, Check This Out