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Nearly 2,700 unique comments sent on Klamath dams

by TIM HEARDEN, Capital Press January 6, 2012

YREKA, Calif. – Agencies planning the controversial removal of four dams from the Klamath River received nearly 2,700 unique comments about the project by the Dec. 30 deadline, officials said.

Those individual comments were in about 1,600 letters addressing aspects of the environmental documents unveiled in September, said Pete Lucero, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Sacramento.

The federal government will respond to each of the comments in crafting its final environmental-impact statement, to be released this spring, Lucero said.

“I understand the comments are well informed and relatively on point relative to the environmental documents,” Lucero said. “Of course many people put a lot of passion into their comments and that’s helpful … but what’s really important is the comments that are specific to our (National Environmental Policy Act) document that help us to better improve the document.”

Comments came from diverse sources, including municipalities, fisheries groups, organizations, tribes, water users and others, Lucero said. Remarks ran the political spectrum, he said.

“I think we were expecting a large volume of comments and we certainly got that,” said Matthew Baun, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service here. “Now’s the time to look at each one of those comments and come up with a thoughtful response so that can be appended to the EIS in a couple of months.”

The comment period was to end Nov. 21 but was extended to Dec. 30 after Siskiyou County, Calif., counsel Thomas Guarino and others complained they didn’t have enough time to examine the hundreds of pages of documents.

Unveiled Sept. 21, the analyses claim the dam removals and related fisheries restoration efforts could help to significantly increase salmon harvests without directly affecting farmers’ water supplies in the basin.

The written comments came as hundreds of people gave testimony at a half-dozen public meetings on the project in Southern Oregon and Northern California in late October. In Klamath Falls, Ore., and Yreka, Calif., demonstrators on both sides of the issue gathered before the evening’s meeting with signs and banners.

Dennis Lynch, a program manager for the U.S. Geological Survey who is working on the Klamath project, said last fall that public comments are “a critical component” in shaping the decision of whether to remove the dams. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is expected to determine the project’s feasibility next spring.

A bill authorizing the project was introduced Nov. 10 by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif. The bill would establish a formal planning process for removing the four dams, which the government asserts would create as many as 4,600 jobs in the Klamath Basin.


Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement studies and EIS/EIR: http://klamathrestoration.gov

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