Humboldt County supervisors on Tuesday voted to conditionally support the draft agreements meant to tear out the Klamath River's four main dams and resolve the thorniest fish and water issues in the basin.

The county Department of Public Works recommended the action, saying the two agreements behind the massive dam removal project were technically sound and politically supported. While the Klamath River Hydropower Agreement envisions the dams beginning to come out in 2020, Environmental Services Manager Hank Seeman said the timeline would allow state and federal environmental reviews of the complex project to be complete and legally defensible.

Yurok Tribe Policy Analyst Troy Fletcher said that the agreements are the best means to restore the struggling fisheries of the Klamath River and resolve long-standing disputes. There is no other credible alternative, he said.

”If not these agreements, what are the concrete, achievable alternatives?” Fletcher said.

The draft dam removal agreement among 28 parties in the basin and dam owner Pacificorp calls for the U.S. Interior Department to determine by 2012 whether the project will restore salmon runs and be in the public interest. Iron Gate, Copco 1, Copco 2, and J.C. Boyle dams would begin to come out in 2020, paid for with up to $450 million from dam owner Pacificorp's ratepayers and a California water bond. One such bond is coming before Californians in 2010, though the $11.1 billion measure may face lukewarm support in a debt-ridden state and could threaten the Trinity River.

The dam removal deal would be signed along with the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, a $1 billion effort to restore fish and wildlife habitat, provide more water for fish and more certain water deliveries for irrigators in the Upper Klamath Basin.

While broadly supported among the negotiating parties, the Hoopa Valley Tribe and the Northcoast Environmental Center have been critical. Jay Wright with the NEC said that the agreements have too many off-ramps for parties, which could scuttle the project, and that the 2020 deadline isn't secure. He said that the dam removal pact and the restoration deal should not be tied together.

”We feel that the issues between dam removal and restoration are logically separate issues,” Wright said.

But Klamath River advocate Dr. Denver Nelson said that the NEC has never consulted many of its lifelong members. The Board of Supervisors shouldn't view the NEC as a significant player like the Yurok Tribe, Nelson said, adding that the organization's deceased former leader Tim McKay would not agree with the NEC's position.

”I don't think Tim McKay would approve of their position,” Nelson said.

Fifth District Supervisor Jill Duffy said that the county earns a place at the negotiating table by approving the draft deals, enabling it to continue expressing its concerns as the complicated process unfolds in the coming years.

”The heavy lifting is going to be done after the agreements are signed,” Duffy said.

While 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace expressed the need for some critics' concerns to be addressed, he said the alternatives to the deals proposed so far are only speculative.

The board voted to endorse the deals 5-0.

Duffy will travel to Portland, Ore., next week to take part in helping to finalize the agreements, which each organization would bring back to its governing body for final approval. A deadline of Jan. 14 is set for all parties to sign or oppose the agreements.

John Driscoll covers natural resources/industry. He can be reached at 441-0504 or