PORTLAND - Members of the Northwest Power Planning Council have called for another emergency meeting to deal with the potential cuts in Bonneville Power Administration's fiscal year 2003 fish and wildlife budget. It's the second time in recent months that the council has met this way. The next meeting is slated for Jan. 27 in Portland.

At their regular monthly meeting earlier this week, BPA vice president Paul Norman told the council that his power agency's financial deficit is still pretty murky.

"We're extremely worried about secondary sales," Norman said, referring to BPA's selling of surplus power. Facing a water year that may only be about 80 percent of average, Norman said the $625 million the agency was counting on in revenue from the secondary sales will be more likely $400 million or less for the fiscal year.

Norman said BPA is still working to make across-the-board cost reductions with the likelihood of lowering the FY 2003-2006 deficit from $1.2 billion to $860 million or less, depending on hydro supply changes. BPA could possibly even come out of 2006 on the positive side, he said, $345 million in the black, but that "assumes a whole lot of cost reductions we just don't have in place now."

Council members and staff spent a lot of time last week discussing how to cut fish and wildlife programs to help BPA deal with its financial crisis. BPA has told them about $40 million needs to be shaved from about $171 million already budgeted for the current fiscal year which began over two months ago.

Council staffer Doug Marker explained how changes in spending principles for land acquisitions could help, especially if such costs were capitalized, but other questions had members stumped as well, especially how to make sure that BiOp obligations for recovering ESA-listed stocks are satisfied while funding the entire program, whose basinwide scope lies beyond ESA considerations.

Rod Sando, executive director of the Columbia Basin fish and Wildlife Authority, told the council that fish and wildlife managers need certainty and "real numbers" from BPA before they can tackle the issue. He said BPA's latest report has only caused more uncertainty and creates more questions as to how much funding will be available for new projects.

The F&W budget is facing a tough problem as past contractual obligations have come due this fiscal year, creating a budget shortfall of around $40 million. The problem with contract accruals is a situation that's likely to be with managers for another couple of years, said BPA's Bob Austin after the meeting.

BPA wants the F&W budget whittled down by Feb. 21. "It isn't gonna happen," Sando told the council.

In written testimony, CBFWA members told the council in December that cutting the F&W budget would be "short-sighted and result in the need for greater expenditures in the future."

It's still not sure how the budget-cutting process will happen. Outgoing council chair Larry Cassidy wasn't too excited to let fish managers do their own trimming. Pointing out that they are principally resource stewards, "when it comes to cutting budgets, they don't have the same track record."

New council chair Idaho's Judi Danielson expressed concern over the projected deficit facing the fish and wildlife program. She said she was less convinced than a month ago that $41 million "is the right number."

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