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Devastating Talks on Dam Removal

by Larry Toelle, Fort Jones 3/31/08

In case we haven't noticed, it's political silly season. Politicians are busy pitting one group against another, dissembling their opponent, spinning their past misdeeds into points of triumph, and carefully parsing their words for political advantage. Our local politicians are no different, it's something they're compelled to do by our system of governance.

Regrettably, our local silly season arrives amidst potentially devastating talks on dam removal. To separate fact from fiction, we have to attend meetings, listen carefully, wade through bureaucratic prose, and generally ignore what the politicians are saying. Those of us who sit in the cheap seats, can only speculate as to what is occurring behind closed doors.

The “media blackout” is near total. Relying on the Fourth Estate for “news without views” is useless. The only reporting we're getting is what the politicians tell us in their columns. The local press is simply not up to the task of getting to the truth, or too timid to report what they know.

So, what is going on with the dams? From Tuesday's hearings, we learn County government has been up-to-their-ears in the negotiations for the past two and a half years. The tribes, environmentalists and agencies were profuse in their praise of the county. We also learned that the county's negotiating team, DeMarco, Berliner and Dupre “were of immense value,” presumably for their support of the dam removal agreement. Two of the three are retired or retiring from government, the other is a paid gun lawyer.

Bordering on duplicitous, the county supervisors pretended to ask the “tough questions” at Tuesday's hearing. What happens to the sediment when the dams are removed? ... ah jeez, we don't know. When do you expect to lose half of your home value? ... when the dams go. Why do the tribes want the dams out? ... fish. How much will electricity cost after the dams are gone? ... a bunch. Hardball questions all.

One of the supervisors caught by pitting on-project irrigators against off-project irrigators, is telling one side of his district that dam removal might be a good thing, while telling the other side that dam removal is a bad thing. So which is it? Good or bad?

Next Tuesday, the board is going to finally decide the issue. Will the county support or condemn the dams? After two and a half years, they're finally going to belly-up-to-the bar and make the “big decision.”

Think about it. It has taken this county two and half years, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and a boatload of childishness to determine the obvious. Can anyone seriously consider blowing the dams when our county's future depends upon them? We think not. So why have the politicians spent the money, time and careers of the county? Our guess is ... just plain silly.

When can we expect the adults to take charge?

Larry Toelle, Fort Jones

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