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http://capitalpress.com:80/main.asp?SectionID=94&SubSectionID=801&ArticleID=52046
 
 
Ore. House passes Klamath dam bill, returns it to Senate

Mitch Lies, Capital Press 6/12/09

SALEM - The Oregon House on Friday, June 12, moved forward a bill that puts in motion a plan to remove four Klamath River dams, despite opposition from rural Republicans who said the bill is bad policy.

Senate Bill 76 previously passed the Senate along largely party lines with Democrats supporting it and Republicans opposed.

Rep. Ben Cannon, D-Portland, characterized SB76 as little more than a rate cap for PacifiCorp customers. Several steps must be taken before dam removal gains approval, he said, including several studies, approval from federal lawmakers and federal agency officials.

Voting against the bill, he said, would put in jeopardy the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, the restoration of fish runs in the Klamath River and saddle PacifiCorp ratepayers will continued uncertainty.

The bill, he said, caps ratepayer liability at $200 million. And, he said, the Oregon Department of Justice has determined there is a "low risk of taxpayer liability" if costs of dam removal exceed previous estimates.

Rep. Bill Garrard, R-Klamath Falls, said, however, he believes the bill gives the dam removal plan momentum that will be hard to stop.

"It's the first domino," he said. "If you tip the first one over, the whole row is going to collapse."

Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, agreed, saying: "This piece of that process ... starts something that will not be easily stopped."

Further, Bentz said, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement renders water adjudication in the basin moot.

"And that is wrong," he said.

Bentz called for lawmakers to reject the bill.

"I don't say dams can't come out. I do say we have to do it right," Bentz said.

The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement is a plan hammered out by fishermen, farmers, ranchers, agency officials and others - a total of 20 groups were involved. It outlines commitments from water users and tribes in regard to water allocations in the Klamath Basin.

The plan also puts in place a funding mechanism to pay for removing the four dams.

Under the plan, PacifiCorp ratepayers would pay the first $200 million in dam removal costs. Additional costs would be funded under a $250 million bond earmarked to go before California voters.

Much of the uncertainty in the dam removal costs is based on the level of toxicity in the sediment that has built up behind the dams. Some believe cost estimates provided to date are woefully short and Oregon taxpayers, they said, could get stuck with paying for cost over-runs.

Cannon and other supporters, however, said several checks are in place to prevent the project from going forward if removal costs or environmental risks are high.

The House passed the bill, 34-24.

SB76 now heads back to the Senate for consideration of an amendment added in the House that sought to limit ratepayer liability.
 
 
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