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Water talks to continue in Medford, Redding
Mikkelsen to stay the course in wake of Zinke departure

Until he’s directed otherwise, Alan Mikkelsen plans to continue in his current role as senior adviser to the Secretary of the Interior.

Mikkelsen shared his willingness to stay the course with the position in a phone interview with the Herald and News Tuesday, days following the announced resignation of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who will leave office at the end of the year.

Mikkelsen said he wouldn’t speculate on who could be next in line for the top Interior post, but emphasized the Klamath Basin would likely remain a high priority for whomever takes over.

“This is just about the largest natural resource conflict in Department of the Interior,” Mikkelsen said, only rivaling the Everglades in Florida.

“I think any secretary is going to be interested in and keen to see this situation resolved.”

Zinke will leave his Interior post on Dec. 31, and names for his replacement are already being floated in national news outlets. Among contenders are Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and former Rep. Cynthia Lummis, a Wyoming Republican, according to a report by The Hill in Washington, D.C.

Basin concerns

“I obviously serve at the pleasure of the secretary, whoever the secretary is,” Mikkelsen said. “I think that I have got a good relationship with the stakeholders in the Basin as well as stakeholders across the West. I really enjoy the work and I enjoy the challenge of the work. But at anytime if somebody wants me to leave, all they have to do is say, ‘Alan, it’s time for you to go fishing.’”

Mikkelsen has been traveling to the Klamath Basin since August 2017 in an effort to facilitate a long-term water agreement between on- and off-Project irrigators, and, until recently, with the Klamath Tribes.

The 66-year-old fishing guide and Montana resident said he has no other career ambitions following this current post than to return to the rivers where he likes to guide and fish.

He has likened the process of working with local stakeholders toward a long-term water agreement as climbing Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world.

“I am not doing this for the sake of having a job,” Mikkelsen said. “I don’t have any further or professional ambitions at my age. But I truly do enjoy the work and the challenge, but I am also ready to go fishing as needed.”

Discussing issues

Mikkelsen this fall formed what he calls a “coalition of the willing,” a group now comprising close to 60 people, including several individuals from the Klamath Basin.

The group met recently at the Bureau of Land Management office in Medford, chosen for its federal offices and large meeting room, according to Mikkelsen.

Those attending were “virtually every single stakeholder group in the Basin except obviously the Klamath Tribes,” Mikkelsen said, although three Tribes members were in the room observing. He would not comment for publication on the parties who attended the meeting.

Mikkelsen has said talks between he and the Tribes had stalled since a meeting with the Tribal Council last summer.

“We’re hopeful that they would be willing to join in the discussions,” Mikkelsen said, “but regardless, I was extremely encouraged just simply by all of the parties that were there. And their willingness to talk about difficult issues.”

The coalition plans to meet again in mid-January at the BLM office, and in Redding, Calif., in February, where Mikkelsen referenced ease of access for his staff.

Mikkelsen has no current plans to visit Klamath Falls in 2019, although he said he doesn’t mean he will not visit.

Mikkelsen said a large group of individuals from Klamath Falls and other communities are involved in the meetings, and that Medford serves as an accessible location where individuals can meet in the middle.

Public meetings

“At some point we may be getting into a public meeting situation where we would have public meetings around the Basin and obviously Klamath Falls would be one logical place for that,” Mikkelsen said.

When asked how soon a public meeting could occur, Mikkelsen chuckled and searched for an appropriate answer.

“I don’t want to take a guess at that,” he said. “Let me put it this way, I came to the Klamath Basin with very high expectations … I have now tempered those expectations greatly. And I just want to see where this current process takes us. I am very encouraged where we’re at right now, but I don’t want to get ahead of the process in any way.”




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              Page Updated: Saturday January 05, 2019 05:46 PM  Pacific

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