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 Karuk slam dam deal

By Phil Hayworth, Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, CA  December 10, 2008  

A group of angry Karuk and Klamath River residents have fired off an angry letter and petition to the county against dam removal and the Karuk Tribal Council, claiming the Karuk Tribe doesn't speak for them when it comes to dam removal.

"Many Karuk Tribal members are disappointed by the continuous promotion of dam removal on the Klamath River. Unfortunately, this is being done by a very small contingency of tribal members being led by Vice-chair Leaf Hillman and tribal spokesman Craig Tucker," reads the cover letter submitted to the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors in early August.

The cover letter read that the petition was signed by 250 Karuk and River dwellers. But according to Wendy Winningham in the County Clerk's office, the petition has far fewer than 250 signatures.

"As Tribal Members/Community Members, we do not agree with dam removal," reads the heading on each of the 20 or so signed petition pages. "Dams are not the reason for the salmon net returning to the Klamath River. Small groups of tribal members, along with small interest groups, are not representing all tribal members/communities along the Klamath; they represent their own agenda."

"All tribal members and community members should be able to have a voice, not a select few," the petition reads.

Meanwhile, Tucker said that he isn't really sure who is behind the letter and petition. But he added there are 3,520 registered Karuk Tribal members, so the alleged Karuk supporters of the petition represent a small - and until now, unheard - contingent.

"If they have a beef, then they should show up to a Tribal Council meeting," he said.

That's easier said than done, argued James Waddell, a Karuk Indian and former Klamath River resident. He said that he's long argued that the dams are not the cause of salmon decline on the river and that once he voiced his desire for keeping the dams, other Karuk were "afraid of being associated" with him.

"I can't afford to lose this job was a comment of friends that did not want to be 'fired' by Leaf Hillman, supposed Tribal Vice Chairman," Waddell wrote in an email last week from an undisclosed location.

He wrote that his opposition to dam removal prompted threats on his life - one of the reasons he no longer lives along the River. The petitioners contacted by the Pioneer Press asked not to be identified in this article, fearing retribution.

But the dams are likely coming out, say observers, even as petitioners and the Siskiyou Board of Supervisors continue to fight against that from happening and the state Water Resources Control Board ponders pending PacifiCorp certification. The Board of Supervisors recently directed County Counsel to issue "Requests for Qualifications" for a special legal expert to assist the county as part of the Board's intention to assemble a team to oppose the removal of the dams.

Last week, the county approved a request to increase by $10,000 consultation fees to be paid to Berliner Law of Washington D.C. to help fight dam removal. The total amount of that legal expertise would not exceed $40,000 for the term Dec. 2 through June 30, 2009.

Their actions, Tucker argues, are futile and financially frivolous, coming at a time when the county is slashing millions from various county department budgets.

"Instead of spending all the county's time and resources fighting this deal - a losing agenda -- they could spend that money moving forward, working on getting county contractors on the wagon," Tucker said.

"When was the last time anyone, including the government, spent $1 billion in Siskiyou County?" he asked.

The board and others should now focus on making sure that money stays in Siskiyou County, getting assurances from the government and educating county contractors about how best to hop on the financial gravy train precipitated by removal of the four hydroelectric dams -- the largest national public works project in decades.

"Because if these people are not behind it now," Tucker said, "then they shouldn't get the benefits when the dams start coming down."

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