Bentz: Klamath water deal could have ripple
effects on E. Oregon
By MIKE FERGUSON Baker City Herald February 19, 2008
With two full weeks under his legislative belt, Cliff Bentz says
he's figured out the secret to getting by at the Capitol.
"It's a function of knowing the right people to ask questions of
and knowing what's going to be important to your district," said
Bentz this morning by telephone from his Capitol office.
Bentz, an Ontario Republican, represents Baker, Malheur, Harney
and a portion of Grant County in the Oregon House of
Even though one eye is on his district — during weekly phone
interviews, Bentz invariably asks about "the weather back home" —
the freshman legislator said he's keeping another eye on issues
that don't affect his constituents directly now, but might one
A case in point is the proposed settlement for the Klamath River
Basin, in which four dams could be removed to protect fish,
fishing and other in-stream interests, but at the expense, Bentz
says, of ranchers.
Because of his experience on the Oregon Water Resources
Commission, Bentz was asked to sit in on a presentation about the
proposed settlement before the House Natural Resources Committee.
"The broader issue here is taking care of folks with water
rights," Bentz said. "It is a huge, huge, huge, negative,
dangerous and bad thing for the ranchers there. The political
force is with the tribes and the instream interests, and that
leaves the ranchers feeling pretty lonely. My job was to remind
folks that water rights are rights that need to be protected."
That's an issue, he said, that "could make a circle and apply to
places like Eastern Oregon."
At another hearing — this one before Bentz's House Transportation
Committee — Bentz said he found himself in the awkward position of
trying to help clean up an unintended mess that the previous
Legislature made, this time in an ethanol bill.
Bentz said he's heard of at least two flaws in the law. When the
only fuel available is a gas/ethanol blend, a lot of old
agricultural equipment — from chainsaws to four-wheelers — won't
be able to handle the blend.
And gasoline station owners say they won't have the facilities to
store unblended gasoline in their underground tanks.
To solve that problem, Bentz proposes that the new law exempt
premium gasoline from the blending requirement. About 7 percent of
the gasoline sold in Oregon is premium fuel, he said.
"That'll mean I have to buy premium," for the equipment to run his
own small farm outside Ontario, he said, "but at least I'll be
able to find it."
"That was the most clear example to me of people getting behind an
idea too soon before it had worked its way through the system,"
Bentz said he "ran into the governor the other day" at the
Capitol, and all Ted Kulongoski wanted to talk about was Senate
Bill 1069, which would in part direct the Water Resources
Department to provide grants to study water storage sites.
Bentz said he's heard that the bill, currently in the House Ways
and Means Committee, would specifically benefit Baker County by
paying for a pilot study here. Studies are limited to $500,000
each. He planned to meet today with Water Resources Department
director Phil Ward to discuss the bill.
"That bill's still alive," he said. "It's got a lot of people
behind it, including the governor."
Bentz had a breakfast meeting last week in Salem with Baker County
Commission Chair Fred Warner Jr., but said he didn't have much
good news on transportation issues for the county's top elected
official. Last week's lower-than-expected revenue forecast
announcement — coupled with fewer federal road dollars available —
will put a damper on new money for local road budgets, he said.
"That is all very disquieting," Bentz said. "Gas tax revenues are
diminishing, because people are driving cars with greater fuel
mileage, yet there's still the same amount of wear and tear on our
There's a "huge list" before the Transportation Committee "of what
every community wants for its road system, and most of them are
linked with economic development."
The bill that might concern Bentz the most is House Joint
Resolution 100, which passed the Democrat-controlled House last
week 31-29 along party lines. That bill, now before the Senate,
would create in the Oregon Constitution a fundamental right for
The problem, as Bentz sees it, is the price tag, which Bentz
figures will be at least as costly as education, the state's
"Why put this before people if you don't attach what the cost is?"
he asked. "If you are a legislator and this becomes a right in the
Constitution, you must fund it.
"We all want access to affordable health care. But what's
affordable? Who gets the health care? This is dangerous business
down here. You can seriously affect education, because health care
would be on an equal foundation with that.
"Do we double taxes? Cut funding by half? We do people a
disservice, because most folks are too busy making a living to
think these things through."
On a happier personal note, Bentz said he's heard talk that the
scheduled month-long session might wrap up this week. That would
suit Bentz fine.
"It's great being here," he said, "but it is 401 miles from home."
Mike Ferguson can be reached at 523-3673 or email@example.com.