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County opts not to join dam removal agreements

Supervisors seek ‘political leverage’ by not signing on

Del Norte County will not join two agreements to remove four dams on the Klamath River and use a basin-wide approach for restoration.

After months of considering whether to become a party to the agreements — which have already been signed by several stakeholder groups in California and Oregon, including tribes, irrigators, fisherman and government agencies — the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday opted not to join the collaborative effort in exchange for a chance to change the scope of what’s included in the dam removal package.

“This is about positioning for how we can best affect what’s missing or erroneous in the agreements,” said Supervisor David Finigan, whose district includes Klamath. “It’s called political leverage.”

There seemed to be some lingering frustration over Del Norte County being left out of the initial negotiations to decommission the four PacifiCorp-owned dams and develop the $1 billion plan for environmental improvements in the basin.

And while many of the supervisors said they supported dam removal and restoration to improve suffering salmon stocks, they said the agreements fell short in that the plans seemed to pander to “special interest groups” and didn’t include provisions to protect water flows in the Klamath’s main tributary — the Trinity River.

“This is certainly not a stand against the health of the river,” Chairman Gerry Hemmingsen said about not becoming a party to the agreements. “We are certainly for a strong, healthy Klamath River, and I’ll be the first to sign on to anything that states that clearly.”

Members of the Yurok Tribe, and some of its government officials were at Tuesday’s meeting to urge the Board of Supervisors to sign onto the agreements, saying it was one of the best opportunities for the county to get involved with dam removal and the Klamath River’s recovery.

There’s still a lot of work that needs to be completed before the hydroelectric structures can actually be removed in 2020, including approval of funding, passage of key legislation  and a federal determination that shows the benefits of dam removal outweigh the potential negative impacts to people and the environment.

“It would be better if the county participated than if not,” Yurok Tribe Senior Attorney John Corbett said. “The best voice for Del Norte County is Del Norte County.”

District 2 Supervisor Martha McClure was the only member of the board to support signing the dam removal and restoration agreements. She pleaded with her colleagues to join her, saying the best opportunity to enact change is as a member group that is directly involved as the agreements move through the various stages of study and approval.

“If we’re not at the table when that’s morphing then our voice will not be heard,” McClure said.

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