PORTLAND, Ore. — A decision by the city transit agency to reject an advertisement about saving Klamath River salmon has drawn a free-speech lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of conservation groups and a Northern California Indian tribe.
The proposed ad rejected by TriMet shows three salmon blocked by an underwater wall of electrical outlets and says: "Salmon shouldn't run up your electric bill. They should run up the Klamath River."
The ACLU claims TriMet violated the federal and state constitutions by rejecting an ad it said was too political.
"TriMet's job is to transport riders, not to override free-speech protections," said Dave Fidanque, executive director of the ACLU's Oregon chapter.
TriMet officials said they could not comment on a pending lawsuit.
But Mary Fetsch, the transit agency's spokeswoman, says the type of advertising accepted by TriMet is "focused on selling goods and services."
The lawsuit was filed Feb. 20 in Multnomah County Circuit Court on behalf of the Karuk Tribe of Northern California and the Friends of the River Foundation.
The ACLU said the TriMet committee that rejected the ad wrote that the transit agency did not want its buses or property "to become a public forum for the dissemination, debate, and/or discussion of public issues."
The committee's decision was appealed to TriMet's general manager, who upheld the rejection in a letter dated Jan. 18.
Kelly Catlett, Friends of the River spokeswoman, says the TriMet argument that the ad is too controversial because it supports salmon conservation has little merit in a region where public support for conservation is high and the federal government already spends billions of dollars to protect the fish.
"Their argument that it has suddenly become too hot to handle seems ridiculous," Catlett said.
The tribe and the foundation joined commercial salmon fishermen and utility-ratepayer advocates last November to launch a campaign to remove four aging hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River operated by Portland-based PacifiCorp, a unit of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., which is controlled by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
In January — after two years of negotiations between farmers, tribes, fishermen, conservation groups and government agencies — a plan was announced for what could become the largest dam removal project in the nation's history.
The $1 billion plan must be reviewed by PacifiCorp and federal agencies, which must agree to the removal.