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“If we can’t find a solution, the basin-wide conflict will continue.”

That’s how Humboldt County Board of Supervisors chairperson Jill Geist premised the presentation she organized on the recently released draft Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement before the supervisors Tuesday.

The presentation was held one week to the day after the public debut of the Klamath Settlement Group’s ambitious agreement, which aims to find a durable and long-term solution to declining Klamath River water quality and plummeting salmon stocks.

Tribal members, fisheries scientists, government officials and environmental group representatives lined up in the board chamber to give their support, air their objections or share their concerns to the board, which is scheduled to decide whether to approve the document on behalf of the county on Feb. 19.

The 26-member stakeholder group has been working privately over the past three years to produce the 256-page settlement agreement that outlines a nearly $1 billion plan to achieve a water balance between farmers and tribes in the upper basin and tribes, fishermen and communities along the lower Klamath River over the next 50 years.

The majority of the money for the massive effort would be diverted from already existing federal money earmarked for restoration, according to the plan.

The agreement is premised on the removal of four hydroelectric dams on the lower Klamath River owned by Oregon-based PacifiCorp.

While the power company is seeking to renew its licenses from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Klamath settlement negotiators are counting on hammering out a separate agreement with PacifiCorp to remove the dams.

Both agreements are expected to be finalized by February.

For Craig Tucker, Klamath Campaign coordinator for the Karuk Tribe, the agreement is the “mother of all dam removal projects.”

“What we are talking about is phenomenally ambitious,” Tucker told the board.

He said moving forward on what would be the largest project of its kind in U.S. — possibly world history — requires resetting the bar for what is possible in fish restoration.

With only an estimated eight percent of the Klamath River’s historic salmon stocks surviving — particularly the spring run salmon the tribe has traditionally relied upon for its main diet — Tucker said the agreement is a step in the right direction.

Tucker said he is confident the groups can be successful in getting the dams removed because it is more financially feasible for PacifiCorp to do so than to spend the estimated hundreds of millions it will likely cost to install the fish ladders and other requirements specified by federal fisheries managers under the relicensing.

The Karuk Tribe and other settlement members believe PacifiCorp should bear the estimated $100 million cost for decommissioning the dams, which critics of the agreement say isn’t addressed in the document.

Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairman Clifford Lyle Marshall said his tribe supports removal of the dams — the “carrot” that has lead all of the 26 stakeholders through the negotiations so far.

But Marshall said that carrot isn’t in the current settlement agreement being discussed and the Hoopa Valley Tribe won’t agree to support the document he said “suffers from overwhelming defects.”

“It doesn’t guarantee water for the Klamath,” Marshall said. “It hopes.”

With no guarantees, Marshall said the tribe won’t waive the tribal fishery rights it is being asked to do under the agreement.

And by their statements to the media, Marshall said he doesn’t believe PacifiCorp is even willing to enter an agreement nor has any incentive to ever do so.

PacifiCorp spokesperson said last week the negotiations were flawed because the company was intentionally excluded.

Concerns over the agreement also came from the Northcoast Environmental Center, which participated in the negotiations and whose members are weighing what they describe as considerable positives, as well as risks.

NEC Klamath Coordinator Erica Terrence said the restoration plan in the settlement agreement would make life incrementally better for fish, compared to other alternatives, but it doesn’t go far enough.

Terrence said people have been damaging the Klamath watershed for many years.

“It’s a tough road to reverse some of that damage,” Terrence said.

Mike Belchik, a fisheries scientist for the Yurok Tribe, said he was lending his support for the agreement on behalf of the tribe.

While he advocated for the agreement locally, Belchik said a delegation of Yurok tribal members and upper Klamath Basin farmers had arrived in Washington D.C. Tuesday to meet with lawmakers and Department of Interior officials to discuss the plan.

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              Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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