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Feds, state could be next on list

 

 July 25, 2004

Crater Lake, water quality and quantity, and hunting resources could be part of effort

By DYLAN DARLING

A $1 billion claim the Klamath Tribes filed against PacifiCorp earlier this year may be just the first effort to collect from parties who have damaged or taken resources, a tribal attorney said Saturday.

The federal government and the state of Oregon are next, said Dan Israel, a Denver-based attorney representing the tribes.

"The feds are a big target, the state is less of a target," he said.

Israel filed the Klamath Tribes' claim against PacifiCorp on May 11 in U.S. District Court in Portland, seeking at least $1 billion in damages for the construction of dams that prevent salmon from reaching the upper Klamath Basin.

"There are probably seven or eight others," he told the Herald and News Saturday.

Some of the other claims could be for the taking of Crater Lake, failure to protect water quality and quantity, and poor management of hunting resources, he said.

Israel was supposed to be the main speaker at a Saturday meeting of the Klamath Claims committee, a little known entity that dates to the termination of the Tribes in the 1950s, and which is paying for the PacifiCorp lawsuit. He was unable to attend because of thunderstorms in Colorado that grounded planes and made it impossible for him to make his connection to Klamath Falls.

Speaking to the Herald and News by phone, he said Saturday it is up to the Tribes to decide when to file the other claims against the United States and Oregon.

He said lawsuits against irrigation districts and other junior water rights holders in the Basin are possible, but he isn't considering them right now.

"They would be at the bottom of the list," he said.

The 10-member claims committee represents tribal members, and their heirs, who were on the roll of the Klamath Tribes, then known as the singular Klamath Tribe, when it was terminated by the federal government in 1954.

About 200 people, mostly members of the Tribes, packed into the sweltering Altamont Elementary gymnasium late Saturday morning, expecting to hear Israel give an update on the salmon suit and to discuss the litigation.

The meeting was closed to the press and public. No information about what transpired at the meeting was available.

Besides seeking monetary damages, the goal of the claims is to "force the hand of restoration in the Basin," Israel added.

"Lawsuits always help. They get people's attention," Israel said from Colorado.

PacifiCorp officials, citing company guidelines, won't comment about the case, said Jon Coney, company spokesman.

The company is currently trying to get a new 50-year license to run its five-dam hydroelectric project on the Klamath River from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC has asked the company to consider removal of some of the dams as part of the process.

But, even if some of the dams are removed and fish passage is set up around the dams, Israel said the damage claims will stand.

"The damages are part of the present and the past, not part of the future," he said.

Allen Foreman, chairman of the Klamath Tribes, said the salmon suit was a long time coming.

"The general response is, 'It's about time,' " Foreman said. "This is something that has been talked about since I was a kid."

He said members of the Tribes came from all around - Sacramento, Pendleton and Washington state, for example - to attend the meeting.

Cobby Shadley of Klamath Falls met up with his brother, Calvin Shadley of Eagle Point, to go to the meeting.

They said they both support the lawsuit, and said the claims weren't excessive.

"You can't put a price on salmon and the rivers," Cobby Shadley said.

Bob Bajorcas, chairman of the claims committee, said getting salmon has been a dream of tribal elders.

"You can't hide from the fact that the dams are there, there are no salmon in the river," he said.

 

 

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