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PacifiCorp, agencies to make their cases about Klamath dams

By STEVE KADEL H&N  August 2, 2006

Attorneys, start your engines

A hearing to begin Aug. 21 will help PacifiCorp and federal agencies get a better idea of the utility’s chances for a new license to operate four dams on the Klamath River. 

A judge in Sacramento will preside over a “finding of fact” hearing. PacifiCorp and government agencies with an interest in relicensing will make their cases about such things as which areas harbor toxic algae, how many salmon are returning to spawn, and so on. 

A decision is due by the end of September. It will lay out the rules, in effect, under which the traditional relicensing procedure will take place before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. 

Alex Pitts, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Sacramento, said the hearing is a way for both sides to agree on facts. 

“Right now the field is full of ‘You said this and we disagree.’ The judge will clear the field out so he can look more clearly at what’s right and what’s wrong,” Pitts said. 

For example, she said one recommendation from the Fish and Wildlife Service calls for fish ladders and screens to be installed at the dams to improve fish passage. The judge won’t decide whether that’s appropriate or not, Pitts said, but he could rule on details about each method. 

A decision on whether Pacifi-Corp is relicensed, and what conditions might be imposed if it is, won’t come for some time. Pacifi-Corp spokesman Dave Kvamme said FERC won’t issue a final Environmental Impact Statement until 2007. 

Participants in this month’s hearing are treading on new ground. Only one other such hearing has been held nationwide since the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 amended the relicensing process, Pitts said. 

Meanwhile, representatives from PacifiCorp, conservation groups, Tribes, and a host of governmental agencies have been holding “settlement meetings” aimed at finding areas of agreement. 

If solutions acceptable to all factions can be found, FERC probably would given the consensus package its blessing rather than making a ruling of its own, Kvamme said. There are wide differences of opinion on fish passage and other topics, but he hasn’t given up finding a group decision. 

“We really hope we can reach an agreement in the settlement process,” Kvamme said. 

PacifiCorp’s current license was issued in 1956.
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