With just three dissenting votes, the Idaho House has given approval to a recommendation to Congress that it study rebuilding the Teton Dam.
The earthfill dam, on the Teton River near Newdale in eastern Idaho, failed in 1976 as its reservoir was being filled for the first time. The resulting wall of water swept down the Snake River, causing heavy property damage all the way to American Falls Reservoir.Eleven people were killed, and the federal government eventually paid more than $300 million in damages.
The House voted 69-3 on Thursday for a message to Congress asking new studies on rebuilding the dam. The measure now goes to the Senate.
Rep. Dean Haagenson, R-Coeur d'Alene, headed an interim study committee that inspected possible water-storage sites in eastern Idaho. He said it was the committee's view that the old site was the best remaining site on the upper Snake River system.
But Rep. Ken Robison, D-Boise, told members it would cost about $1 million per farm to provide a small amount of supplemental irrigation water to them.
He said it would be a waste of time to ask Congress to pour money into new studies, because there was no way the dam could be justified.
He said the 1964 study on the dam's feasibility made some false assumptions, including that money to pay for it could be borrowed at 3.25 percent.
"No additional studies are needed. It is clear that it cannot be justified. You are asking Congress to waste money on a project which cannot be justified and certainly couldn't be justified in light of today's economics," said Robison.
Joining him in voting against the memorial to Congress were Rep. Gayle Wilde, R-McCall, and Rep. Leanna Lasuen, D-Mountain Home.
"There are few sites in the state of Idaho where a new dam could be built, for a number of reasons, mainly environmental," said Rep. Golden Linford, R-Rexburg. "Teton Dam is one that could pass muster, as long as there is a need."