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Groups to avoid water forums

Meetings set for today at Klamath County Fairgrounds
  by TY BEAVER, Herald and News 11/10/09

     Advocates for the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement will avoid public comment forums today on water issues organized by area state legislators.

   Leaders of the Klamath Water Users Association, the Klamath Tribes and the Upper Klamath Water Users Association announced their intentions in a statement released late Monday afternoon.

   “Our feeling is it’s not a forum that’s going to be productive,” said Matt Walter, Sprague River rancher and UKWUA board member.  
   Members said the forums seem more like opposition rallies meant to stir people up against the agreement, rather than a constructive and educational presentation and discussion of the document. The agreement seeks to resolve water issues in the Klamath River basin. The forums are organized by state Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, and state Reps. Bill Garrard, R-Klamath Falls, and George Gilman, R-Medford. They will be from 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. at the Klamath County Fairgrounds.
   Whitsett and Garrard denied the forums were organized to specifically oppose the agreement, saying they are meant to gather input. Garrard said it’s unfortunate the agreement’s advocates feel differently.
   “It’s kind of reflective of their attitude toward those who oppose their position,” he said.  
   No need seen
   The groups said there is a need for public debate and discussion of the KBRA but until the document is finished, such discussions are premature.
   State lawmakers said they do not plan to comment or answer questions at the forums, and only plan to listen.
   People will be chosen randomly to speak after they’ve signed up. They will have three to five minutes to comment. The sessions will be recorded on DVD and provided to elected officials, government   agencies and the media.
   “That’s the way it was advertised, that’s the way it will be,” Whitsett said.
   But the organizations representing the Tribes, irrigators on the Klamath Reclamation Project and a portion of off-Project irrigators said an advertisement in Sunday’s Herald and News paid for by groups opposing the KBRA and the lawmakers   ’ past criticism indicate the sessions will not be productive.
   When asked whether they wanted to attend the sessions to explain their stances, Greg Addington, KWUA executive director, and Walter said the format and the tone of the meetings would make that effort fruitless.
   “You can’t do it in a three-minute sound bite, which is what they’re doing,” Addington said.
   Work in progress
   Advocates said they appreciate that people have opinions about the KBRA and that public input is part of the process, but stakeholders are still working on the document and it isn’t ready for public review. Walter said stakeholders want to make it available sometime in December.
   “In our opinion, it’s simply premature,” said Jeff Mitchell, Klamath tribal councilman.
   Garrard said the advocates’ position is a valid concern, and people do need to be reminded the document isn’t complete.  
   But the state lawmaker said he still wants to hear people’s thoughts on the agreement and see whether a poll the lawmakers sponsored earlier this year showing strong opposition to the KBRA was accurate. He noted that some portions, such as that pushing dam removal, are virtually finished and to the public. Similar forums will likely be held after the KBRA is complete, he said.
   “We’ve had three years of this and no one has tapped the public and asked, hey, how do you feel about this,” he said.  
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