The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to formally become a party involved with the removal of several Klamath River dams.

The vote supported county staff's recommendations, with the exception of the related resolution, which outlines the board's intentions upon signing. The board, at the request of 1st District Supervisor Jimmy Smith, held off on approving the resolution Tuesday, asking instead that it come back at the Feb. 9 supervisors meeting so it can include the review of some last-minute amendments made by 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace.

At Tuesday's meeting, Hank Seeman, environmental services manager for the county Public Works Department, presented the board with some of the consequences and benefits of signing the agreements. While the agreements do not guarantee fisheries recovery or dam removal, it will provide a strategy for success, and Humboldt County would be in a better position to advocate for its interests if it was a signed party, Seeman emphasized in his presentation.

Fifth District Supervisor Jill Duffy, who has worked on the dams issue for the last eight years, said these agreements have been developed in the wake of distrust and litigation that's gone on for years between the parties. She said the removal of the dams is essential to the continued viability of the river's salmon population, and its water quality.

”We likely will not have another opportunity like this one if we miss this opportunity before us,” she said.

During the public comment period, 5th Division Harbor Commissioner Patrick Higgins, a consulting fisheries biologist, urged the supervisors not to sign the agreement. He said it does not go far enough to benefit the fishing industry, and the supervisors don't have enough information to make such a decision.

”We'll likely be back at the drawing board regardless if you sign or not today,” he said.

The final parallel agreements call for tearing out the Klamath River's four main dams and improving conditions for fish and farms in the watershed.

The deals were negotiated for more than three years by representatives from California and Oregon, four tribes, commercial and sport fishing interests, farming communities and environmental organizations. They call for the removal of Iron Gate, Copco 1, Copco 2 and J.C. Boyle dams, owned by Pacificorp; for restoration of salmon and other fisheries; for more water for fish; and for more certain water deliveries to irrigators in the upper basin.

The dams would be removed beginning in 2020, provided a U.S. Interior Department review by 2012 finds the project in the public interest.

A public works staff report concludes that if the agreements aren't executed, management of the Klamath River's many contentious issues will likely return to the courts.

Staff is also recommending the County Administrative Office identify $3,000 in supplemental funding to support participation in the Klamath agreement coordination process in 2010.

Groups have until Feb. 9 to indicate whether they will participate. So far, the Hoopa Valley Tribe and the Northcoast Environmental Center have asked to be taken off the list of parties.

On Tuesday, members of the Yurok and Karuk tribes spoke out in support of the agreements.

Yurok Tribe Councilman David Gensaw Sr. said the immediate removal of the dams is crucial to the survival of future generations.

”We take this seriously. This is about life,” he said.

The tribal members' comments were echoed by Klamath River Keeper and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman Association (PCFFA). The PCFFA will make its decision on joining the agreement later this week, as will the Karuk Tribe.

PCFFA President David Bitts said he is confident the association will join the county and sign the agreements. He emphasized the importance of taking care of the Klamath.

”As a crab fisherman, I'm standing on one leg right now. I'm standing on my Klamath leg because my Sacramento leg is not too good right now,” he said.

The board approved all of the staff recommendations concerning the agreements except for the board's resolution.

Lovelace produced a list of amendments that would further emphasize the board's wishes by highlighting pertinent language in the agreements. But those adjustments were still somewhat rough-hewn as of the Tuesday meeting.

Duffy said while she agreed with many of the proposed amendments, county counsel did not have a chance to fully review the document, nor did the public.

”There's frustration with it being presented last minute,” she said.

The board then decided to bring the resolution back for review at the later meeting, after all the adjustments suggested by Lovelace were integrated and reviewed.

Donna Tam can be reached at 441-0532 or