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Tribes seeking $1 billion


Published May 11, 2004


The Klamath Tribes are seeking at least $1 billion in compensation for the loss of salmon runs in the Upper Klamath Basin.

An attorney for the Chiloquin-based Tribes said he filed a suit this morning in U.S. District Court in Portland against PacifiCorp, which operates a series of hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River.

Plaintiffs in the suit include the Klamath Tribes, several individual tribal members, and Klamath Claims Committee, a little-known entity that dates to the termination of the tribes in the 1950s.

The suit claims construction of dams on the Klamath River destroyed the Tribes' federal treaty rights to fish for salmon in the river's headwaters.

"The Tribes' traditional reliance upon salmon for subsistence and trade is undisputed; and the existence of dams blocking salmon passage beginning in 1911 is undisputed."

Jon Coney, spokesman for PacifiCorp, said today the company hadn't been served with any claims yet.

"We can't comment on something we haven't seen," he said.

The Klamath Claims Committee represents tribal members, and their heirs, who were on the roll of the Klamath Tribe when it was terminated in 1954. At the time of termination, the Tribes had several claims against the federal government, and the committee was established to continue the pursuit of those claims.

Dan Israel, one of the Tribes' attorneys, said the lawsuit is to hold the power company responsible for changes to the Klamath River that ended the salmon's migration into the Upper Basin.

"It very simply alleges that PacifiCorp, with the construction of Copco No. 1 and then other dams, blocked the passage of salmon to the Sprague (River) and other spawning grounds," he said.

According to the 1864 treaty with the United States, the Klamath Tribes have fishing rights for salmon. Those rights were reinforced by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the 1970s that the Tribes' still hold hunting and fishing rights, despite the abolishment of their reservation in the 1960s.

PacifiCorp has a 151-megawatt hydroelectric project on the Klamath River made up of four dams - Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2, J.C. Boyle and Iron Gate - and other small projects. The company also owns the Keno Dam and has a contract to operate the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Link River Dam.

Salmon migration stops at the Iron Gate Dam, the lowest on the Klamath River, in Siskiyou County.

The California Oregon Power Company, PacifiCorp's predecessor, started putting dams in on the Klamath river in 1908, according to PacifiCorp's Web site. The last dam was finished in 1962.

The power dams are up for a new 50-year license, with the current license set to expire in 2006.

In the 3,000-page re-licensing application filed in with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in February, PacifiCorp proposes spending about $10 million to put in a new fish ladder at the J.C. Boyle Dam west of Keno. That ladder would benefit trout and other fish.

But PacifiCorp did not develop plans to establish passage for salmon around the three other major dams.

In February, PacifiCorp officials said creating salmon passage to the Upper Basin would be too expensive, with a cost of $100 million estimated for adding new ladders and screens to the four dams on the Klamath River.


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