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Dam removal advisory vote remains on ballot

Compromise reached prior to hearing

Klamath County voters will get to voice their opinion on removal of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River under a compromise reached Wednesday.

Although Commissioner Tom Mallams remains opposed to the final language, he was out-voted by Commissioners Jim Bellet and Kelley Minty Morris who agreed to the compromise.

At issue is an advisory vote the commission wants on the Nov. 8 ballot regarding dam removal. Mallams pushed for a simple up or down advisory vote on whether the four dams should be torn down. (Commissioner Minty Morris opposes the ballot measure altogether, but agreed to let the issue go forward).

Those opposed to the language of the ballot issue, local farmers Tracey Liskey and three others, took the issue to court. A hearing before Circuit Court Judge Lane Simpson of Lake County was set, but was not held as both sides worked out a compromise over the wording of the ballot issue.

Voter question

The question before voters will now read, “Are you in favor of removing four hydroelectric dams under the terms of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement?” A yes vote advises the Klamath County commissioners to support removal of the dams; a no vote advises them to oppose removal. Either result is nonbinding.

The resolution came within three days of the deadline ballot language has to be sent to a printer. The deadline is Friday.

“At least the voters get to have their say,” Mallams said Wednesday. He said he was unwilling to compromise on including the KHSA in the question, but was out-voted.

Under the KHSA, dam owner PacifiCorp (and subsidiary Pacific Power) will transfer its license to operate the Klamath River dams to a private company known as the Klamath River Renewal Corporation. This company will oversee the dam removal in 2020. PacifiCorp will continue to operate the dams until they are decommissioned. Once transferred, the utility is absolved of all liability when they are removed.

Challenge supported

Scott Bolton, Pacific Power’s vice president for external affairs, also attended the court session Wednesday. The utility supported the challenge to the original wording. In a statement issued Wednesday, the company said:

“We continue to believe that an advisory vote on a binding legal settlement regarding private property is unproductive and will only further divide the community. However, we are pleased that an agreement was reached to more accurately portray the decision that’s being put before voters in November.

“The real decision isn’t simply to support or not support dam removal, but whether dam removal under the terms of a settlement agreement and under this particular set of circumstances is a better, less risky outcome for our customers than available alternatives.

“The revised ballot question better conveys this choice than as originally drafted by the commissioners.”

FERC hearings

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is to hold relicensing hearings in the near future on the KHSA. Mallams said the commission may intervene in the hearings because the county stands to lose tax revenue once the J.C. Boyle dam in Klamath County is removed.

The amount of that loss is in dispute; Mallams said county records show PacifiCorp pays about $445,000 in property taxes on J.C. Boyle. The utility said the tax liability is about $118,000 for the dam alone. The rest of the tax bill is on other infrastructure and property (such as powerlines, substations) which may remain in place.

Mallams believes that once the dams are removed, the remaining infrastructure will be removed as well, since it will be useless without power from the dams.

“It appears that PacifiCorp is making a case that if the dams come out, there is going to be most of the taxable assets still in place. They say this will be the transmission lines that will continue to serve their customers,” Mallams wrote in an email.

“Keno has no hydroelectric structure so there’s no distribution structure there. J C Boyle will have some minimal structure but will not be connected to anything since the dam and generators will be gone. PacifiCorp will not own any of the land either. If they are trying to say some power lines are worth three times as much as both dams, the turbines and the miles of flume, I see no validity there at all, but nice try.”

Overall, the utility pays about $1.6 million annually in county taxes, a spokesman said.



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