Health care, water hot topics; Senator speaks with Basin residents at town hall meeting
photo by Ty Beaver
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., speaks during Memorial Day services Monday in Klamath Falls. He met with local residents during a town hall meeting Tuesday.
Klamath Basin residents asked the senator
about his efforts to provide medical coverage
and services to those unable to obtain them.
Irrigators off the Klamath Reclamation Project
voiced their opposition to the Klamath Basin
Restoration Agreement and encouraged Merkley to
study the document.
Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, had been in the Klamath Basin since Monday when he spoke at a Memorial Day event in Veterans Memorial Park. He said he wants to visit with residents in every part of the state.
“There’s nothing like firsthand conversation,” he said.
Merkley said he is sponsoring a bill that would quadruple funding to federally qualified health centers, which includes Klamath Open Door. He said there also is a need for public health care to give U.S. residents an option, and told attendees that he almost didn’t run for the Senate because his family would have had no health care if he didn’t get elected.
“It really does change your options,” he said.
Off-project irrigators, including Ambrose McAuliffe and Linda Long, asked Merkley to weigh in on the restoration agreement, which seeks to solve water disputes between fishermen, farmers, tribes and environmentalists.
Those irrigators and others said they were being ignored and marginalized in the process and would end up less than whole if the agreement goes through. They also pointed out how a recent survey showed strong opposition to aspects of the agreement.
“No one else thinks about the north end of the lake,” Long said.
Merkley said he expected to hear a lot about water during his visit to the Basin, and added he was glad there was conversation aimed at avoiding litigation.
But, he said, the concerns voiced Tuesday show there are still puzzle pieces missing.
“This being a local process, I don’t want to jump in the middle of it,” he said.
Eventually, the agreement will go before federal lawmakers, and he and others in Congress will need input to determine its future, Merkley said.