Crowd pushes feds to rip out Klamath River dams
Hundreds of people turned out Thursday night in a passionate display before federal regulators to tell them that the dams on the Klamath River should be torn down.
Staff with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission -- charged with issuing another license for four hydropower dams owned by Pacificorp -- heard speaker after speaker demand the agency consider removing the dams instead of letting them continue to operate. The health of the regional economy, of people and of fish runs is more important than the pittance of power the dams generate, they were told.
”I plead with you,” said conservationist Claire Courtney, “use no other option -- take the four dams down.”
So many showed up that about 200 people packed the hallway outside the hearing room at the Red Lion Inn. Frustrated people were turned away as the 350 people in the room was the maximum allowable according to fire codes.
FERC's John Mudre, assessing the situation in the hall, blamed local biologist Pat Higgins and the media for getting too many people to turn out to a public meeting.
”You guys caused the problem,” Mudre said.
FERC booked the same room -- with similar results -- in June 2004.
The commission has the authority to issue another license to Pacificorp.
During the hearing, Mudre said that the term of the license could be 30 or 50 years. The agency recently released its draft Environmental Impact Statement, which outlined its intent to leave the Iron Gate, Copco I, Copco II and J.C. Boyle dams in place.
But an administrative law judge's ruling last month made it clear that Pacificorp would likely have to build fish ladders to allow salmon to reach hundreds of miles of spawning grounds cut off by the dams. Pacificorp has proposed to trap fish and truck them above and below the dams.
”The salmon need to go home,” Yurok Tribal Chairman Howard McConnell said. “Their home is the Upper Klamath Basin. The time is now.”
Repeatedly FERC staff was admonished for not analyzing removal of the four dams, and were called on to heed a recent California Coastal Conservancy study that holds that decommissioning the structures is not nearly as expensive as building fish ladders. They were also told that the federal document fails to address the cultural costs of the dams to American Indian tribes like the Yurok, Hoopa and Karuk, or economic costs to fishermen.
State Sen. Wes Chesbro said FERC's current tack would be about “as effective as putting lipstick on a pig.”
He told the representatives that removing the four dams should be the centerpiece of FERC's proposal, and said that up to $525 million through Proposition 84, passed this month by voters, could be used toward taking out the dams.
Agencies like the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must finalize conditions for fish passage and other issues by January 30, and FERC's final environmental document is due in April. Then, both California and Oregon must consider issuing water quality certifications before a federal license can be granted.
Comments on FERC's draft Environmental Impact Statement are due by December 1. The document can be viewed at Search for Klamath.