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Stakeholders ask for Klamath talk delay

Dams subject of closed-door talks

Tam Moore, Capital Press 12/1/06

A Klamath River settlement that might back removal of hydroelectric dams is so close that a planned December "Klamath Summit" has been put off, at least until January.

The meeting, sponsored by Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was planned the week of Dec. 11 in Klamath Falls, Ore. When it will happen apparently hinges on stakeholder talks - going on without the dam's owner at the table - set for mid-December.

"A number of parties are getting down to brass tacks on some crucial issues," said Suzanne Knapp, a natural resource adviser to Kulongoski. Knapp represents Oregon in the new round of settlement talks that grew out of PacifiCorp Energy's earlier attempt to resolve terms for renewal of a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Klamath hydroelectric project license.

She, like others in the current round of negotiations, won't speak specifics. But her boss, Mike Carrier, told the Associated Press last week that parties hope the federal government will pick up most of the cost. Three dams in far Northern California plus the J.C. Boyle Power Plant just north of the stateline in Oregon are subject of the closed-door talks. There's a regulating dam above Boyle and two small powerplants near Klamath Falls that PacifiCorp wants to drop from a renewed license.

Carrier said U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne asked that "solutions" be presented at a summit so he might return to Washington, D.C., with a package of items for federal funding. American Indian tribes with treaty rights to Klamath salmon lead stakeholders that want dam removal rather than relicensing.

Klamath salmon runs have been blocked for 90 years by the complex of hydroelectric dams about 180 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. Fish numbers dropped dramatically over that time, and Endangered Species Act protection triggered conflict over diversion of irrigation water to upper basin farmers.

FERC this week wrapped up a round of public hearings on the draft environmental impact statement for a new license. The commission staff favors keeping the dams, but opening the upper river to salmon by trucking them around the lower dams.

"These are not the old settlement talks that have been going on for 2 1/2 years," said Dave Kvamme, a PacifiCorp spokesman. "All the parties have been there, but not us; this is among the stakeholders."

Kvamme said the talks that evolved this fall are "a political process" that reach beyond the portion of the Klamath used by the hydroelectric project.

"We welcome participation by political leadership in this. It's no secret there are a wide diversity of views in the basin," he said.

The power company opened the door this summer, shortly after MidAmerica Energy Holdings Corp. took over ownership of PacifiCorp from Scottish Power. PacifiCorp's new president, Bill Fehrman, responded to an August rally by tribal members at the company headquarters in Portland by saying, "We are not opposed to dam removal or other settlement opportunities as long as our customers are not harmed and our property rights are respected."

In another shift at the top, Fehrman took personal charge of settling the Klamath license. Toby Freeman, who managed all of PacifiCorp's FERC relicensing, left the job this fall to transfer to Klamath Falls, where he became highly visible as the PacifiCorp regional customer service representative.

Siskiyou County, where the three Northern California dams are located, continues to support relicensing. Marcia Armstrong, chairman of the Siskiyou Board of Supervisors, last week filed an official statement with FERC supporting the staff alternative. County officials note that several hundred thousand dollars a year in property tax payments and many local jobs come from the hydroplants and a fish hatchery at Iron Gate Dam.

"This is not just fish, it impacts other industries; we need to all get on the same side of the rope and pull," said Armstrong in a November speech at the annual Klamath Watershed Conference.

Glenn Briggs, who lives in Seiad Valley about 60 miles downstream from Iron Gate, said dam removal is a last resort. He argues that low-cost hydroelectric power, control of river flows and other factors are significant, and that fixing fish passage and getting cool water downstream will go a long way toward helping dwindling natural salmon runs. Briggs is part of a Save Our Dams group formed earlier this year. He has a major point of agreement with direction emerging from the latest settlement talks.

"The burden of doing all the investment should not be dumped on the power company. They should be contributed by the agencies interested in (restoring) fish runs," Briggs said last month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His e-mail address is tmoore@capitalpress.com.
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