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Could the wrong opinion on water cost you your business?

by JOEL ASCHBRENNER, Herald and News 5/22/11

Upper Klamath Lake is the main reservoir for irrigation water supplied to the Klamath Reclamation Project. It also is home to endangered fish



Bob Gasser won’t take sides on the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.


The $1.5 billion water deal has proved polarizing for Basin irrigators, fishermen, environmentalists and tribes, but for business owners like Gasser, supporting or opposing the agreement can be costly.


KBRA supporters and opponents have pressured him to take their side, but he stays neutral.


“If they don’t agree with your view, you could lose their business,” said Gasser, coowner of Basin Fertilizer & Chemical Co.


And losing business isn’t an option for Gasser, who is trying to recoup losses from last year, when he saw a 30 percent drop in business due to a drought that left Basin farmers and ranchers with about half of their normal allotment of irrigation water.


Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said KBRA opponents have told Klamath Basin businesses owners they would boycott businesses that support the KBRA. Business owners took note, keeping their views on the KBRA private, he said.


“Intimidation and fear are powerful tools and there are some folks who are using them particularly well,” said Addington, a KBRA supporter.

Tom Mallams said he thinks most agricultural business owners in the Basin oppose the KBRA, but many keep their views private out of fear of losing pro-KBRA customers.


A friend of his had sold bulls to a Klamath Basin ranch for 20 years, but lost the customer when he refused to support the K BRA, said Mallams, president of the Off-Project Water Users Association and a vocal opponent of the agreement.


Mallams is involved in several organizations that oppose the KBRA and has testified before Congress against the agreement, but said he tries to keep his views from impacting his own business relationships. H i s h ay supplier, a Klamath Project farmer, supports the KBRA, but the two don’t talk about it much.


“To save our business relationship, I just kind of let it go,” Mallams said.


Donnie Boyd, the third-generation owner of Floyd A Boyd Co., a Merrill tractor and farm equipment dealership, said his business took a hit during last year’s drought and continues to suffer from a down economy. Boyd has an opinion on the KBRA, but said he keeps it to himself.


“It’s not good business for me to pick a side,” he said. “I’m about irrigation for everyone in the community. Everyone.”


Staying out of it


Archie Linman, owner of Klamath Basin Equipment, avoids discussing the KBRA altogether.


“I won’t talk about it,” he said. “We have customers on both sides.”


The Klamath County Chamber of Commerce represents nearly 600 local businesses. Executive director Charles “Chip” Massie said some of those business owners have told him they feel pressure to stay neutral on the issue out of fear of losing business. Massie said the pressure comes from both supporters and opponents of the agreement.


The Chamber came out in support of the KBRA and in November officially advised Klamath County residents to vote “no” on advisory measure 18-80. A “no” vote asked Klamath County officials to remain involved in KBRA implementation talks.


H&N photos by Andrew Mariman The Klamath Reclamation Project straddles the Oregon-California border.

“It was a very controversial stand to take,” Massie said. “The community had very strong opinions on both sides, but we felt we needed to be representative of our business community’s interests.”


Measure 18-80 proved to be divisive — 11,435 residents voted to keep the county involved in the KBRA and 10,736 voted to have the county officials discontinue participation.


Massie said the Chamber caught flack for supporting the agreement and for its recommendation on 18-80. Some of the Chamber’s members told Massie that they were being pressured to urge the Chamber to not take a stance on the issues.


“That shows the depth of the controversy,” he said.

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              Page Updated: Tuesday May 24, 2011 02:46 AM  Pacific

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