PRIMARY ELECTION 2012 - Klamath County Commissioner Position 1
Candidates split on KBRA support, dam removal plan
But all agree water agreements aren’t perfect solution for Basin
by JOEL ASCHBRENNER, Herald and News 4/12/12
The four candidates vying for the Republican nomination for Klamath County commissioner Position 1 agree the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement is not perfect.
In addition to water issues, the candidates discussed public safety, economic development, education and other county issues at the roundtable hosted by the Herald and News’ reader advisory committee.
Q: Don Gentry, vice chairman of the Klamath Tribes, asked if candidates support the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement? If not what is a better alternative?
Tom Mallams: Mallams said he opposes the KBRA. The water settlement was a good idea from the start but it morphed into a broader agreement that conceded too much to environmental groups and other interests, he said.
A provision to remove four PacifiCorp dams on the Klamath River, part of a related agreement, was “thrown in there to sweeten the deal for PacifiCorp,” he said.
Mallams challenged Switzer’s claim that the KBRA could include more provisions for water storage for irrigators. The KBRA prohibits the creation of water storage because it says any excess water must be sent downriver for environmental benefits, he said.
There are many alternatives to the KBRA but stakeholders drafting the agreement refused to listen to them, Mallams said. Siskiyou County offered 14 pages of alternatives to the KBRA and Klamath County added several more, he said.
In 2005, a group of irrigators from off the Klamath Reclamation Project, the Klamath Tribes and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., signed a water settlement, but it was derailed by federal agencies and Project irrigators who favored the KBRA approach, Mallams said.
John Garee: “The more I learn about the KBRA, the more confused I am,” Garee said.
He said he opposes the agreement because it does not guarantee water for agriculture.
“To me that is the most important thing.”
Garee said he thinks 80 to 90 percent of Klamath County voters oppose the KBRA. Stakeholders should go back to the table and start over to create an agreement that people actually support, he added. Garee also said he opposes removal of Klamath River dams.
Kelley Minty Morris: The KBRA, with its $1 billion price tag, is stalled in Congress unless stakeholders come back to the table to improve the agreement, she said.
Stakeholders should not scrap the whole agreement but should continue to work on it, she said.
Morris said she could help bring together stakeholders on both sides of the KBRA debate because she has not been involved in agriculture or the KBRA and does not have a specific agenda to push.
Al Switzer: Switzer said he supports the KBRA because it helps protect irrigators from adjudication, the process of litigating water rights.
“I simply do not think we can continue to litigate and that is the alternative” to the KBRA, he said.
Switzer agreed funding for the $1 billion water settlement will be hard to squeeze out of Congress, but said the KBRA should not be abandoned. Measure 18-80, a 2010 ballot question in which about 52 percent of voters agreed the county should stay involved in the KBRA, showed the community does support the agreement.
Switzer said he is unsure about dam removal, but believes PacifiCorp has the right to remove its dams if it chooses. He added PacifiCorp has developed the capacity to produce 3,200 megawatts of renewable energy, more than enough to replace the Klamath River dams’ 169 megawatts capacity.
Switzer also said he believes the KBRA should include provisions for offstream water storage.
Q: Langell Valley farmer Hank Cheyne asked if the KBRA is implemented, how much revenue property would tax the county lose and how would candidates replace it?
Morris: The county would lose about $500,000 in property tax under the KBRA, Morris said.
To replace it, she said, the county needs to streamline economic development and get businesses to invest. We have to make the county look better to prospective employers, she said.
Switzer: Switzer agreed the lost property taxes due to the KBRA would total about $500,000.
Agriculture and the timber industry would still be major economic drivers, but the county must attract new businesses to bring in more tax revenue, he said.
Switzer’s opponents said prospective employers don’t choose to locate in Klamath County because of scandals and unprofessionalism in county government. Switzer contended he has never heard of a business not moving here because of what they thought of county government.
Mallams: The KBRA will reduce Klamath County’s potential property tax revenue by nearly $1 million, he said.
The county would lose $500,000 in annual property taxes from the J.C. Boyle Dam, which would be removed under the KBRA, and about $100,000 annually from agricultural properties, which would be devalued do to the loss of some water rights, he said.
If J.C. Boyle was upgraded and relicensed instead of removed the county could reap an additional $350,000 a year in property taxes, Mallams estimated.
Garee: The county stands to lose “a lot” of property tax revenue if the KBRA is implemented, he said.
“I think the only thing we can do is push forward with economic development,” he said.
While his opponents advocated for recruiting family-wage jobs to the area, Garee said the county needs to bring in any jobs it can, even minimum wage jobs.
Q: Dan Keppen, executive director of the Family Farm Alliance, said the Endangered Species Act has a significant impact on the Klamath Basin. Is it realistic to change the ESA and what can the county commissioners do about it?
Garee: Garee said ESA reform is very realistic.
“I think the ESA should just go away completely.”
The commissioners should work with legislators and encourage letter writing campaigns to legislators urging ESA reform, he added.
Morris: Major changes to the ESA are not a realistic possibility, at least in the near future, Morris said.
Officials should focus on making small changes to the act, she said. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
Switzer: Switzer agreed with Morris that it’s unlikely the ESA could be abolished because there are many lawmakers in Congress who support the act.
“It’s a numbers game,” he said. “We don’t have the numbers in Congress to play the game.”
County commissioners can partner with other commissioners from around the country to advocate for ESA reform, he added.
Mallams: The ESA will not and should not be abolished, but it should be reformed, Mallams said.
“(The ESA) has done some very good things but it has gone out of control.”
Mallams, vice-chair of the Klamath County Republican Central Committee, said the committee’s main focus is to reform the ESA. He advocated for legislation, like that drafted for California’s San Joaquin Valley, which would amend the ESA as it relates to a certain region or watershed.
About the commissioner candidates
Garee is a Navy veteran who spent most of his life ranching. He started his business, American Sanitation, in 1991 and said he wants to make Klamath County more business-friendly by reducing fees and regulations.
Garee never has been in politics, but said, “I could no longer stand by and not try to help.”
Mallams is a Beatty area rancher who has been involved in Klamath County issues, like water rights and youth mentoring, for 40 years.
If elected, Mallams pledged to not raise taxes, limit general fund growth to 5 percent per year and listen to the people. He said he believes the current commissioners have not listened to voters, citing the recent construction of an $11 million county road shop, despite protests.
Morris is outreach and development coordinator for Citizens for Safe Schools and a former broadcast journalist.
Morris said she will focus on economic recovery and restoring citizens’ trust in county government.
“We have got to get on a path of economic recovery and to do that we need a county commissioner with a plan,” she said. “I have a plan.”
Switzer is in his fourth term as county commissioner. Before taking public office he was a banker, small business owner and sheep producer.
Under his watch, Switzer said, the county has balanced its budget despite ongoing shortfalls, developed specialty courts to keep people out of jail and has prioritized law enforcement agencies by giving them about 71 percent of the general fund.
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