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Dam removal on hold, supporters believe setback is minor

By Skye Kinkade,
Mount Shasta Herald March 14, 2012
In response to the postponement, supervisors said they may delay a lawsuit against the federal government over the Secretarial Determination process, and last week, they issued a press release demanding that California Governor Jerry Brown officially withdraw from the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement.

Others who support the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and dam removal believe the setback is minor.

“The Secretary wasn’t able to make his decision this month, because we need legislation... we need Congress to act before he can do that,” said Curtis Knight, Conservation Director at California Trout. “Everyone’s doing their job, so when the determination is made, everything’s on track for dam removal in 2020.”

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is tasked with weighing all scientific evidence before making a formal decision whether or not removing four dams on the Klamath River is in the best interest of the public and the fishery. He was set to make the decision by March 31, but two weeks ago it was announced the decision would be postponed because Congress must first pass legislation authorizing him to do so.

Supervisors to Washington

Hoping to prevent the Klamath dam removal decision, Cook said he and Kobseff discussed that and forestry issues with several people while in DC on Feb. 27 and 28. They spoke with Representative Tom McClintock, who they’ve worked with in the past but had not met face to face, as well as Idaho senator Mike Crapo and John Bezdek, special advisor to the Chief of Staff of the Office of the Secretary of the Interior. Bezdek has been to Siskiyou County numerous times.

Cook said he and Kobseff gave McClintock and Bezdek “an update on where we are. That was our goal, to get our side out there, and we accomplished that.”

Kobseff said he believes the county’s intent to sue had some affect on the Determination postponement.

District 2 Supervisor Ed Valenzuela said he supported his fellow supervisors’ trip, calling it “part of the political process... to lobby your point of view.” However, he questions “spending precious resources” to fight dam removal, especially when the Secretarial Determination now has no set date.

Valenzuela said, “I’d estimate the county has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on fighting dam removal when there are things that are more important right now, like Secure Rural Schools funding,” which is set to sunset June 30.

Kobseff said while in Washington, he discussed the Secure Rural Schools funding, which compensates rural counties and schools for declining timber revenue. The funds are shared among the county’s school districts and road departments, and has been in effect for 10 years.

Whistleblower suit

As for the recent whistleblower suit filed against the Department of the Interior by a former employee who claims dam removal science was spun in an unrealistically positive light, both Kobseff and Cook said they are not surprised.

“It’s interesting, because it raises issues we have always been concerned about, and this is coming from the inside,” Kobseff said.

He and Cook are also worried the data being used to make the Secretarial Determination is flawed and other information which illustrates why dams should stay put is being ignored.

Knight said he was surprised, but pointed out the lawsuit doesn’t argue with the science, only the way it is portrayed in a press release.

“A lot of what Houser says, I can see his point. There’s a lot of information you’re trying to get into a press release... I can understand that beef,” Knight said of scientist Paul Houser, who alleges he was fired after pointing out the Department of Interior was spinning information in a 2011 draft of an Environmental Impact Report on dam removal. “There are pushes and pulls in the process, and that’s something we need to be sensitive to, but I don’t think it says anything about the science.”

The debate

When the topic of dam removal comes up in Siskiyou County, it’s often difficult to find someone who has an opinion on the middle ground.

Stances on dam removal have hardened over the years, Cook admitted. He said his main concerns include the loss of clean energy if the dams are removed, as well as potential damage to the river and plummeting property values. He thinks adding fish ladders tot he existing dams would be the best solution.

As for the opposing views related to dam removal, Cook pointed to his friendship with Troy Fletcher, the executive director of the Yurok Tribe.

“We get along about everything, except dam removal,” Cook said.

“We’re still holding out hope for Jim,” Fletcher joked Friday afternoon. He believes taking out the dams is imperative to improve the health of the river and the fishery, which is so important to the Yurok, whose ancestral lands include the lower 44 miles of the Klamath.

Fletcher said he doesn’t think fish ladders are the answer, because they don’t address the water quality issues, including its temperature and the presence of blue green algae, which is a health risk.

As far as the inability for activists on both sides of the issue to see eye to eye, Fletcher commented, “Everybody’s right. Just ask them."

Kobseff said he believes the fishery can be restored, farmers and ranchers can have water and residents can have affordable hydroelectricity with the system that currently exists. He’s worried that science showing the benefits of keeping the dams is being “left off the table.”

Knight said that in his opinion, the KBRA is about a large, diverse group of people who live in the Klamath Basin coming together to work out a solution.

“We continue to be disappointed that the supervisors are not seeing the opportunity (the KBRA) will bring to Siskiyou... From my standpoint, it would be beneficial to be involved in solving problems. The supervisors don’t have to love dam removal,” but they could still be involved in the discussion, Knight said. “That would ensure a much better outcome for Siskiyou County.”



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