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Klamath Dam transfer considered

PacifiCorp talking with government officials

by Ty Beaver, Herald and News 6/10/08

The transfer of ownership of four Klamath River dams to a federal agency is apparently under discussion.

According to area government officials and others, PacifiCorp is discussing that possibility for dams integral to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, a proposal released in January by a group of stakeholders interested in irrigation water, power rates, fish habitat and river restoration and more.

Company spokesmen confirmed that they are talking to government officials, including the U.S. Department of the Interior, but would not say exactly what those talks entail.

Others said they assumed the issue of transfer was understood.

“I was under the impression that wasn’t a secret,” said Jim Cook, Siskiyou County supervisor.

Such a transfer could help the company with costs to consumers and stockholders, as well as help relieve it of liability for the uncertainties of dam removal, including the effects such a project could have years later.

Dam removal

Proponents want the dams (one in Klamath County, three in Siskiyou County) removed to restore migratory fish passage and aid habitat restoration. PacifiCorp repeatedly voiced concerns about liability and costs. They neither confirm, nor deny that such negotiations are under way.

“That certainly might be an approach to it,” said Toby Freeman, PacifiCorp’s regional community director.

Stakeholder representatives for the agreement, which took well over two years of negotiating and collaboration, including Cook, Klamath County Commissioner Al Switzer, Craig Tucker of the Karuk Tribe and Steve Kandra of Klamath Water Users Association, said the concept of transferring ownership has been discussed, but are unaware where things stand.

Cook said the agency receiving ownership would take on responsibility for any consequences of dam removal, such as environmental problems or property value decreases, a great concern in Siskiyou County.

Federal government

The federal government is likely the only entity that could accept the burden, given the cost of removal and any future liabilities, Switzer said.

Tom Towslee, a spokesman with U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he was unaware of the concept, but said it warrants consideration if it can solve the water problems in the Klamath Basin.

“We certainly need the support of all congressional offices to move a concept like that through Congress,” said PacifiCorp spokesman Art Sasse.

Calls were made to U.S. Sens. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and U.S. Reps. Greg Walden, R-Ore., Wally Herger, R-Calif., and John Doolittle, R-Calif. Their staff either said the lawmakers could not comment because they did not know details of recent discussions or did not return calls. Some said they would call back after researching the matter.

Calls also were made to PacifiCorp President Pat Reiten, Oregon state Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, Oregon state Reps. Bill Garrard, R-Klamath Falls, and George Gilman, R-Medford, and California state Sens. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, and Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, and California Assemblyman Doug La Malfa, R-Richvale, the Klamath and Yurok tribes and Humboldt County. They were unable to comment or did not return calls.

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