Klamath protesters return to Omaha
by Doug Meigs, May 30, 2009 Indian Country Today
on Karuk spokesman Craig Tucker}
by Doug Meigs - Tribes affected by dams along the Klamath River
traveled to Omaha, Neb. for the annual shareholders meeting of
Berkshire Hathaway. The company owns the controversial dams which
are negatively affecting the salmon essential to their traditional
OMAHA, Neb. – Dams and Indians have bad history in the United
States. But for the tribes along the Klamath River – and the
salmon they champion – there is good news upstream.
Four dams on the Klamath will be slated for removal – as soon as
PacifiCorp passes ownership onto the fed. … as soon as the
paperwork is finalized. … as soon as state and federal governments
have reached consensus with all interested parties. … as soon as
2012, when further scientific and economic studies are completed.
Last November, PacifiCorp signed a non-binding agreement that
outlined 2020 as the earliest date for removal.
The removal, however, is no small undertaking. It represents one
of the largest ecological restoration projects in human history.
The dam removal would dismantle many thousand tons of cement and
steel, and empty 60,744 acre-feet of reservoir waters from
Oregon’s Cascade Mountains down 263 miles through northern
California to the Pacific Ocean. A dam removal of such magnitude
has never before been attempted in North America or elsewhere.
To encourage the positive progress, the Hoopa, Yurok, Karuk and
Klamath tribes returned to Omaha in May for a shareholder meeting
of Berkshire Hathaway, the company owned by Warren Buffet – the
second richest man in the world.
Along with a slew of products, from Coca-Cola to Fruit of the
Loom, Berkshire Hathaway owns MidAmerican Energy, which had
acquired PacifiCorp four years ago from a Scottish corporation.
Along with PacifiCorp’s energy utilities (including the Klamath
dams), shareholders acquired tribal protesters.
The tribes hope dam removal will restore the river’s dwindling
For the third year, the tribes sent representatives to Omaha. Last
year, the tribes aimed at disrupting the meeting. They clogged
question-and-answer lines for the “Oracle of Omaha.” They dropped
banners in the massive auditorium. And the convention center’s
security ejected more than half of the 24 representatives.
This year, the tribes came with a different message: “The salmon
isn’t in the smokehouse, yet.”
Roughly a dozen tribal representatives distributed faux-newspapers
that explained their cause. The “Klamath World-Herald” masthead
mimicked the local daily – The Omaha World Herald.
“I’m here to thank PacifiCorp for cooperating and working with our
people to move forward with the dam issue,” said Archie Super,
chairman of the Karuk Tribe.
The tribes’ presence felt milder in 2009, but their position
“We want to let the company know that the dams are destroying our
culture, they are destroying our people, destroying our
watershed,” said Georgiana Myers, with the Klamath Riverkeeper
The past 12 months included numerous progressions in the dam
removal issue. The Klamath Tribes of Oregon are nearing
adjudication on a senior water rights claim; various state and
federal legislations are pending; EPA regulations are making it
more difficult for PacifiCorp, and local farmers, to do business
along the river.
“We do have some stewardships and principles around doing what’s
right and protecting the environment,” said PacifiCorp spokesman
Art Sasse. “So it would be an overstatement to say it’s simply a
matter of dollars and cents. But, we are regulated by the
government and we have to bring energy to our customers at the
lowest possible cost.”
To keep the dams, PacifiCorp must build $350 million worth of fish
ladders, which makes re-licensing cost-ineffective.
The dams, constructed between 1908 and 1962, require federal
licensing every 50 years. The tribes’ concerted protest efforts
began the year before re-licensing could begin. In 2004 and 2005,
the tribes sent delegations to Scotland to speak with
Craig Tucker, a Karuk spokesman, said they found welcome audience
with the Scots. “The city coat of arms in Glasgow has salmon on
it, so they could identify with salmon-people. And the
shareholders were really outraged. So we thought we were going to
be able to use a shareholder resolution in Scotland to force the
Then ScottishPower sold PacifiCorp, and the landscape changed. The
tribes came to the annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting in 2007
seeking a collaborative approach. They left Omaha disappointed and
returned with last year’s confrontational approach.
Corporate/investor opinion isn’t the only obstacle to the tribe’s
goal. PacifiCorp is currently negotiating with 26 stakeholders to
reach an agreement – farmers need irrigation, commercial fishermen
need rejuvenated salmon spawns; environmentalists need endangered
species protection. Meanwhile, PacifiCorp’s customers need
“Where I think the tribes really started to gain ground was in
figuring a way to go to people that had been at war in the past
(commercial fishing and agriculture interests) and find a common
ground,” Sasse said. “I think the tribes should really get credit
for bringing a coalition together that hadn’t existed before.”
The dam decision won’t be resolved by next year. So, tribal
activists are planning another visit to Buffet at the next
Berkshire Hathaway meeting.