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House panel moves forward Klamath bill

Mitch Lies, Capital Press 5/29/09

SALEM - A House committee on Thursday, May 28, moved forward a bill that sets in motion a plan to remove four Klamath River dams.

Senate Bill 76 authorizes the dams' owner, PacifiCorp, to raise rates to acquire funds to pay for removing the structures.

Under the bill, the monthly rate for an average residential customer is expected to increase $1.50 to $1.80.

The Oregon Public Utilities Commission must rule on the rate increase before it is finalized.

Legislators also attempted through amendments to cap rate-payer liability in the bill, but many believe that liability remains in place.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar ultimately will decide if dam removal takes place. That decision is expected in 2013 after comprehensive studies provide a more detailed look at what the project entails.

The biggest unknown at this point is the amount of toxicity in the sediment that has built up behind the decades-old dams.

Many believe it might be safer to leave the dams - and, as such, the sediment - in place.

The utility rate surcharge also could be used to build fish ladders at the dams if Salazar determines the environmental risks to remove the dams are too high.

The utility has been informed it must add fish ladders to relicense the structures.

The House Environment and Water Committee moved SB76 to the floor with a do-pass recommendation despite considerable opposition from Klamath Basin residents and the legislative body's two Klamath Falls representatives, Rep. Bill Garrard and Sen. Doug Whitsett, both Republicans.

Reps. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, and Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, also opposed the bill in the committee vote.


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