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Plaintiffs in Klamath deal suit say state exceeded authority

By MITCH LIES Capital Press August 27, 2010

SALEM -- Plaintiffs suing the state of Oregon over the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement have amended their lawsuit, now claiming the state didn't have the authority to enter into the pact.

Water For Life and several individuals in December of 2009 filed a lawsuit accusing the state of acting illegally in negotiating in private portions of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.

The organization filed an amended suit Aug. 20 in Marion County Circuit Court, claiming the Oregon Water Resources Department, OWRD Director Phil Ward, and Gov. Ted Kulongoski "exceeded limitations imposed by the Oregon Constitution and state statute through their actions with respect to the KBRA."

As evidence, the plaintiffs in their amended suit note the state's Water Resources Department is drafting legislation for 2011 "that, if enacted, would apparently grant it authority to enter into contracts such as the KBRA."

"The situation is very simple," Water For Life Executive Director Helen Moore said. "If OWRD has authority to sign the KBRA, it doesn't need legislation giving it authority to enter into contracts with private parties, public entities and Indian tribes."

The plaintiffs also claim the "the agreement is not in harmony with state water resources policy," which also puts the department outside of its authority under state law.

Tom Paul, deputy director of the Oregon Water Resources Department, said the suit has no merit.

"The department didn't see a basis for the legal action to be filed (on the original lawsuit)," Paul said. "We still don't, even with the amended (version).

"As far as our legislative concept and how that relates, it is clarification," Paul said. "We have broad, general authority to enter into agreements. Beyond that, I'm not going to talk on any specifics, because we are in litigation with Water for Life."

Paul said the legislative concept was developed "in relation to another agreement.

"Klamath was not part of the thinking for the legislative concept," he said.

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