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Aerial tour of Klamath River dams adds environmental perspective

A flight over the Klamath River hydroelectric dams on Thursday morning served up spectacular views of the expansive landscape, as well as sparking commentary about the pending removal of the dams, and discussion of the broader landscape that connects them.

Passengers on the conservation flying service known as Ecoflight, took off from the Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport, reaching altitudes of roughly 8,000 feet as they flew above John C. Boyle, Copco 1 and 2, and Iron Gate dams.

“It’s just a tremendous opportunity to see the entire watershed and put both the dam removal project in the context of all the sort of integrated things that are going on in our community,” said Mark Bransom, executive director of the Klamath River Renewal Corporation.

“It’s always a wonderful opportunity to see things from a different perspective,” Bransom added. “It really allows us to think differently about what it is that we’re working on when we have the opportunity to see things literally from a different vantage point.”

Bransom boarded the Cessna with local media representatives and Michael Belchik, senior water policy analyst for the Yurok Tribe.

“When you look at a map,” Belchik said, “you can see it’s 190 river miles down to the mouth, but when you’re flying it, you can see it really isn’t that far. We really are part of the same basin.”

Bruce Gordon, a conservation pilot who founded the non-profit flying service, takes groups up in Ecoflight who aim to view a conservation project from the air. Gordon believes the different vantage point can promote insights into issues of conservation.

“The mission of Ecoflight is to present a balanced view and let the land speak for itself, and encourage people to educate them what’s going on,” Gordon said.

The flight — though it cruises at much smaller heights — aims to provide the proverbial “30,000-foot” view of the issue at hand, and in this scenario, gives passengers a front seat view of the dams from the air.

“From my point of view, I don’t want people looking out the left side of the window or the right side of the window, proverbially,” Gordon added. “I want them looking them looking at the landscape, and then I want them to educate themselves about the landscape and what’s important to them, and then advocate for it … We like to say this kind of conservation flying gives the land a voice.”

Belchik served as a commentator during the roughly one hour and 10-minute flight which he said can be a “transforming” experience for passengers to see the dams from an aerial perspective.

“A whole view that you just can’t really get when you drive from spot to spot,” Belchik said. “You get to see how it all works together.”

Bransom, who has already toured the dams by vehicle, said the flight offers a broad perspective as an aerial view.

“When you’re down on the road, down on the dam, you get a fairly limited view of what it is,” Bransom said. “It’s much harder to understand how the tributaries and the wonderful habitat that we expect to provide access to. (This) just broadens and deepens the perspective, and gives us a more holistic view.”

As for logistical next steps, one necessary step by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is still needed to secure plans for the dam removal. FERC must approve the transfer of ownership of the dams from PacificCorp to KRRC. Then KRRC can begin to decommission the dams. Just two weeks ago, KRRC put out a call for bids for the lead contractor for the dams’ removal.

“FERC is operating kind of on their own timeline,” Bransom said, clarifying that the corporation does not anticipate a decision this fall.

“It really is FERC’s intent as far as we know to rely on the board of consultants at this point to do their evaluation before they make any decisions on anything. It’s a best ‘guest-imate’ that it will be sometime in 2019,” Bransom added.

Bransom said he and others are still working to get the independent Board Of Consultants (BOC), referenced in the Definite Plan. The board originally planned to meet by Aug. 1, but meeting has been changed to the third week of October, which will be followed by a tour of the dams.

“We’re honing in on a series of meetings with them,” Bransom said.

According to KRRC’s Definite Plan released earlier this year, draw-down of dams is anticipated to begin in January 2021.

To learn more about KRRC, go online at www.klamathrenewal.org. To learn more about Ecoflight, go online at www.ecoflight.org.



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