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Oregon Senate passes Klamath bill on dam removal funding

Mitch Lies, Capital Press 2/17/09

SALEM - The Oregon Senate on Tuesday, Feb. 17, endorsed a funding plan for removing four Klamath River dams despite objections from opponents that the plan fails to protect PacificCorp ratepayers.

Senate Bill 76, which supporters say caps PacificCorp ratepayers' liability at $180 million, passed 18-12 along mostly party lines.

Opponents questioned whether the bill caps liabilities or whether Oregon ratepayers would be responsible for cost over-runs.

"(SB76) does not cover the liabilities that may result from dam removal," said Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, who was the lone Democrat to oppose the bill. "I am very disappointed to have to vote no today."

In her floor comments supporting the bill, Sen. Jackie Dingfelder, D-Portland, read a letter provided her by the Oregon Department of Justice stating the risk that Oregon ratepayers' liability will exceed the cap was low.

"This bill makes sense for Oregon ratepayers and it makes sense for restoring the Klamath Basin," Dingfelder said.

Michael Carrier, a policy advisor for Gov. Ted Kulongoski, agreed, saying: "It absolutely caps ratepayers liability at $180 million. If you want to protect ratepayers, pass this legislation."

Under Senate Bill 76, Oregon ratepayers would be responsible for paying $180 million of the project's anticipated cost of $200 million. California ratepayers, who make up approximately 10 percent of PacificCorp customers, would be responsible for the remaining $20 million.

Also, according to the plan hammered out in an agreement between Klamath Basin tribes, fisheries, farmers, ranchers and conservationists, California lawmakers are expected to put a $250 million bond before voters to provide a cushion in case costs exceed current estimates.

Spread over 10 years, the average PacificCorp customer can expect a $1.50 increase in their monthly bills, according to PacificCorp executives.

Southern Oregon Sen. Jason Atkinson, R-Grants Pass, was the lone Republican backing the plan in Tuesday's vote.

He said he endorsed the plan despite considerable opposition among many of his constituents. At a hearing before a Senate committee earlier this session, one landowner handed Senators a petition opposing the plan signed by 1,850 Klamath Basin landowners.

"We're protecting citizens: We're protecting farmers," Atkinson said. "The brave thing to do is to move this forward."

Sen. Dave Nelson, R-Pendleton, was among 11 Republicans opposing the bill. He said with water storage at a shortage, now was no time to be removing dams.

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