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Water pact needs some PR savvy

Herald and News Editorial August 21, 2008 by editor Steve Miller

This analogy is meant to urge proponents of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) to be more visible in garnering public support.

Say some huge (company, agency, etc.) decided the Klamath Basin was the perfect place to site its (factory, retail mall, storage facility, etc.). Imagine that they were going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, and it would have billions of dollars of economic impact, but that it was going to be controversial (what isnít controversial these days?).

1. Isnít that about what KBRA proponents have? Something that will cost hundreds of millions, potentially impacts everyone here by billions, and is sure enough controversial?

2. Now, imagine that the pretend outfit was public relations savvy: Theyíd constantly be around, talking it up, answering questions, trying to squelch bad information, taking up friendly debate where needed. Theyíd be at commissioner meetings, chamber meetings, county fairs, quilting bees.

So where is the KBRA public relations? There was a wave a few months ago, but since then thereís certainly not the perception that proponents are hot on the trail of this thing.

This is a landmark agreement, meant to stabilize water availability for irrigation and for salmon recovery downriver, and to provide a route out of years-long water rights adjudication. It calls for removal of dams, for purchase of forest land for the Klamath Tribes, and much more. 3. It took representatives of more than two dozen groups more than two years of negotiating to author it. It is supported by a majority of those stakeholder groups; it is opposed by some that either want things to remain unchanged or want a better deal than the agreement provides.

We sense weíre not hearing much from the proponents for a few different reasons:

n Private meetings. Some opponents try to make something of the fact that the agreement was hammered out in closed meetings. Weíre proponents of open meetings, but donít see anything unreasonable about closed negotiations for a deal of this magnitude, which involves real estate and legal rights. The danger is that stakeholders got so used to meeting in private that they wonít ever see the need to be too public.

That would be a mistake, because they need public support, if for no other reason but that the public gets to vote for the politicians they need to help seal the deal.

n Burnout. 4. Anyone can imagine what itís like to leave your business behind and head out of town to meet with a bunch of people (some of whom youíve been at odds with for generations) to build an agreement of this intricacy. But proponents shouldnít stop the public work ó the opponents are energized and that goes a long way in a battle for public opinion. If the negotiating front-liners are burned out, there needs to be a second wave.

5. n Farm work. Itís that time of year. Thereís been a lot to get done the last few months. Opponents such as Commissioner Bill Brown know this is the right time of the year to pick up the ball, even use a little taxpayer money to go and lobby on behalf of those who want to kill the agreement, and thereíll be no one downfield getting in the way. And itís not necessarily wrong for him to do that ... itís his conscience.

Proponents have to fit public relations work in somehow ó there are too many people who are undecided about it and too many who are fence-sitting or wavering.

Itís time to make hay, in more ways than one.

Commentary by a KBC Editor

1. No, the settlement agreement won't cost "hundreds of millions..." The agreement costs taxpayers $1 billion, and that does not include the possibly 4-billion dollars for dam removal.

2. Perhaps the proponents have no answers for the public's questions. A few unanswered questions are:
* Why would the KBRA give 92,000 acres with water rights, to be swapped for public lands, to the Klamath Tribes that the tribes willingly sold; they voted to sell? This was after thousands of community  members signed petitions to not give land to the Tribe, a sovereign nation off the tax rolls. Taxpayers would pay higher taxes.
* Why would irrigators agree to have salmon planted in the Klamath Basin when the feds say the water quality is not good enough for suckers?
* Why would irrigators agree to have fish parasites, lamprey, planted in the Upper Basin?
* Why would people paying power bills agree to take out dams that supply power for 70,000 households, raising power bills and decimating Siskiyou tax base and reservoir communities?
That's just a few unanswered questions...
3. What is a representative? Someone who believes they are wise enough to decide, behind closed doors, what is best for the masses ? Or someone who allows the constituents to give input in forming an "agreement" and to agree to the conditions imposed upon them? The public had no knowledge and no input until a 250 page legal document was unveiled.  The public/constituents have no vote on the KBRA.
4. This agreement is Their agreement, not Ours. We were excluded from their terms, and excluded from their decisions to support Their agreement.
5. Mr Miller, this is where you cross the line into defamation of character, implying Brown took taxpayer's money, strategically timed a DC trip during farm season, and through in about "his conscience" as if Brown did something wrong.
As reported in the 8/11/08 Herald and News, each Klamath County Commissioner is entitled to travel funds to represent their constituents. Brown said he represented his own opinions, the majority of Klamath Basin residents, opinions of Klamath Basin Alliance, Klamath Off-Project irrigators, and the Klamath County Natural Resource Advisory Council. The Advisory Council of farmers, ranchers, businessmen and a scientist, were appointed by the Klamath Commissioners to advise the Commissioners regarding the KBRA. They unanimously voted to not support the KBRA.  "...the Klamath County Natural Resource council cannot support Draft 11 as written."
Regarding Miller's contention that Brown planned the DC trip so farmers wouldn't get in the way because it is farm season. Mr Miller, it is farm season from March through November in the Klamath Basin, and they work on equipment, feed the cattle, etc, all winter. You seem to believe it is ok for the many settlement men at the table to have gone to DC numerous times (yes, even in the summer) if they support the agreement, but if one supports his constituents' wishes to not support their document, then it's not ok.
But you are right...the settlement experts should be answering their constituent's questions if they hope to get support.
Or, ARE there answers?

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