Megan Hansen

Times-Standard

Passionate public comment was the order of the day at last Tuesday’s meeting of the Humboldt County board of supervisors, where people voiced their opinions about amendments to the Klamath River restoration agreement.

After hearing comments from 29 people, 18 of whom opposed changes to the deal, the supervisors voted unanimously to approve the proposed amendments, which would extend the agreement’s sunset date.

Fifth district supervisor Ryan Sundberg said the decision wasn’t any easy one.

”It’s tough because I’ve got friends on both sides of this issue,” Sundberg said. “My decision to extend this for another two years comes down to giving this thing some more time.”

More than two years ago, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement was signed by 42 stakeholders in tandem with the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, which is intended to remove four dams from the Klamath River.

The two agreements were introduced as proposed legislation to Congress about one year ago, but no action has been taken.

Amendments to the restoration agreement have emerged because of its looming Dec. 31 expiration date. Some stakeholders are now seeking to revise the agreement and extend its sunset date to Dec. 31, 2014.

Klamath settlement facilitator Ed Sheets said the amended agreement was sent out to all the stakeholders, including Humboldt County, in October.

He said each party has to sign the amended agreement for it to take effect.

”I have five signatures so far,” Sheets said to the board.

He said the amendment is a package of changes that updates the process for any future drought plan amendments and clarifies the habitat conservation plan process. Under the amendment, tribes and the secretary of the interior must agree to changes in cost estimates that affect tribal claims. It also clarifies that eastside water supplies used by those not party to the agreement, such as in Clear Lake, won’t be reallocated for use in the lower Klamath.

Jill Duffy, a former 5th District county supervisor and former county senior environmental analyst, said the Klamath legislation is currently in the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. She said if the restoration agreement isn’t revised and both agreements fail, dam owner Pacifi-Corp doesn’t have to make any river improvements.

”PacifiCorp will return to FERC for the relicensing of its facilities,” Duffy said.

Since 2010, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s relicensing process for the river’s four dams has been placed on hold by the State Water Resources Control Board at PacifiCorp’s request. The company doesn’t want the relicensing process to move forward if the dams are coming out by 2020, as stated in the hydroelectric agreement.

A majority of the people present for public comment said the restoration agreement should be allowed to expire. They said FERC won’t relicense the dams and give the company Clean Water Act certification unless expensive upgrades are completed, forcing PacifiCorp to rip out the dams.

Hoopa resident Dana Colegrove said she used to be in favor of the restoration agreement, but thinks the community should look to FERC.

”Let’s fast-track this,” Colegrove said. “FERC is the fastest way.”

Arcata resident John Schaefer agreed. He said PacifiCorp can’t afford to make upgrades that’ll help migrating fish get around the dams.

”Let’s insist in the courts that fish ladders be built or the dams come down,” Schaefer said.

Yurok Tribe senior biologist Michael Belchik disagreed. He said if the community relies on FERC, all they’ll get is a trap-and-haul system where fish are caught and transported around the dams.

Craig Tucker, the Klamath coordinator for the Karuk Tribe, said FERC is made up of five commissioners who are appointed by the president and have backgrounds in law, energy policy and regulation. He said the restoration agreement is the best bet because FERC won’t simply unlicense a dam. 

”It’s always been the product of a settlement agreement,” Tucker said.

The supervisors didn’t talk much after receiving public input, but 3rd district supervisor Mark Lovelace thanked everyone for expressing their opinions and being passionate about wanting to un-dam the Klamath River. He said it’s different in places upstream where they have bumper stickers that say “save our dams.”

”You think you’re on a different planet with what is expressed,” Lovelace said.

Megan Hansen can be reached at 441-0511 or mhansen@times-standard.com.