Klamath dam plan
January 22, 2008 by
Michelle Ma, Triplicate
Last week, negotiators representing 26 interest groups
released a Klamath Basin restoration proposal that was
proclaimed by many as monumental.
PacifiCorp's four dams on the river, the proposal
states, must be removed if this settlement plan is to be
But after stakeholders gathered in confidential
meetings for more than two years to produce the draft
plan, doubts have surfaced about its effectiveness.
For instance, the roughly $1 billion plan is contingent
upon Portland, Ore.-based PacifiCorp agreeing to pull its
dams from the river, but the power company hasn't agreed
to anything of the sort.
Critics question whether it would adequately restore
Also, the leaders of some counties involved with the
talks know their constituents won't support dam removal,
which is the key element to the plan going forward.
To add to the circulating doubts, some wonder why more
groups with ties to the Klamath Basin weren't present at
the talks, including Del Norte County officials.
"Since that river goes into the ocean in Del Norte
County, we should be an equal player amongst all of that,"
said former Del Norte County Supervisor Chuck Blackburn.
Humboldt, Klamath and Siskiyou counties all took part
in the negotiations, but Del Norte County wasn't at the
Current and former Del Norte County supervisors said
they never received an invitation.
But if Del Norte County's leaders do want to join the
settlement agreement, it might not be too late, said Greg
Addington, executive director of Klamath Water Users
Association and participant in the settlement talks.
"I don't think it's out of the question that someone
else could sign on and be another party in the
settlement," Addington said.
Members of the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors
heard about settlement talks for the first time about six
months ago when they met to discuss other issues with the
Yurok Tribe, said Supervisor David Finigan, whose district
"(The Yurok Tribe) shared some information and said
they'd ask if we could be added to the table," Finigan
said. "But we didn't even know there was a table at that
The three counties that did participate in the talks
are all recognized in the draft settlement as possibly
being impacted by dam removal. Siskiyou County is slated
to receive $20 million to make up for lost tax revenues if
PacifiCorp's dams are removed, and Klamath County would
receive $3.2 million to compensate for lost property
Humboldt County isn't listed in the draft document to
receive any compensation before the plan is implemented,
but the county could be re-evaluated by state officials if
dam removal causes fishing areas to close or damages
county infrastructure, the draft document states.
Confidential talks begin
The original settlement group formed after PacifiCorp
initiated the talks about three years ago when the power
company applied for federal relicensing of its Klamath
Hydroelectric Project to operate for another 30-50 years.
Negotiations are still ongoing with the power company
over the fate of its four dams.
It's not uncommon for settlement talks to start when a
company seeks to relicense, Addington said. But what was
unique about this process, he said, was that other issues
rose to the forefront of the discussions, such as water
allocation. Negotiators representing Indian tribes,
irrigators, environmental groups, and federal and state
agencies all weighed in with PacifiCorp during the early
When it appeared there was more to discuss than just
the dams, Addington said, the parties split off into two
separate groups—one that included PacifiCorp, and another
that brought together more than 25 basin-wide
In those early meetings, it appeared the parties
already represented a diverse group, Addington said. At
that point, no invitations were issued, though the group
didn't intend to exclude anyone, he added.
Local input in other talks
Del Norte County did take part in a separate, federally
funded task force that met for 20 years and discussed
fisheries restoration and management in the Klamath Basin.
That group, not unlike the current group of 26
stakeholders, brought together representatives from
different interest groups throughout the basin.
The task force disbanded in 2006 after its funding
Former Del Norte County Supervisor Blackburn served on
the task force for eight years until it ended.
Blackburn said he remembers some talk of groups
splitting off for separate discussions, but it didn't
sound like anything official.
The former supervisor said when groups have formed in
the past—especially with the importance of this settlement
group—formal letters of invitation usually are sent out.
Del Norte County never received any notice, Blackburn
"I'm pretty sure we were never asked to be part of
that," Blackburn said. "I can honestly say I don't
remember them ever putting their hand out and saying,
For counties involved with the settlement,
representatives who took part in the confidential talks
will brief their boards of supervisors and county
residents. After a public comment period, county
supervisors will decide whether to sign the final
Since the draft settlement was released last week, some
groups' constituents are already unhappy with its
Siskiyou County supervisors have traditionally been
opposed to dam removal, said Siskiyou County Counsel Frank
DeMarco, who has participated in the negotiating talks
since spring of 2005.
DeMarco wouldn't speak for the county's board of
supervisors, but he did say that people are concerned that
dam removal would upset the way of life for many county
residents. Three of the hydroelectric dams that could come
out are in Siskiyou County, and one is in Klamath County,
Some Siskiyou County residents enjoy living along the
dams' reservoirs, and their removal might be disruptive,
The county will conduct a series of public meetings to
allow people to weigh in on the draft document.
"If you have a deal about the dams coming out, I can
honestly tell you our people wouldn't be happy with that,"
DeMarco said. "I'm not happy with the settlement. I don't
feel comfortable with this document."
Siskiyou had to ask to be part of the settlement group,
DeMarco said. He said it was a "rigorous" process to get
to the table.
"I had to be aggressive," DeMarco said. "Siskiyou
County is ground zero for dam removal."
Klamath County Commissioner John Elliott said county
residents will have a lot of questions and discussion over
the draft settlement. Elliott, who participated in the
confidential talks, said he thought there would have to be
some changes to the document, or it won't be signed by
"Overall, I think the document is a good first step,"
Elliott said. "Getting these groups from the mouth to the
headwaters involved in this dialogue has been far more
valuable to me—and I think to them—than the document
The draft settlement is contingent upon PacifiCorp
removing its dams, but the agreement is not dependent on
all 26 stakeholders signing on, Addington said.
The aim is to finalize both this draft settlement and
an agreement with PacifiCorp by February, but given the
vast diversity of the 26 groups involved, it might not be
possible for all groups to agree, Addington said.
"(We are) striving for consensus and that was our
objective, but if people can't get there at the end of the
day, we understand," Addington said.
Reach Michelle Ma at email@example.com.