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Group wants Buffett to remove dams

KBC NOTE: The article shows dead fish to promote dam removal. In 2002, the tribes demanded a surge of hot water down the Klamath River against advice of scientists who said this would be lethal to the salmon. Trinity River fish died when they reached the lethal water, and the enviros and Indians blamed farmers for "low flows". These same pictures are being used to promote Klamath Dam removal, blaming dams for dead fish, and assuming that dam removal will fix water quality with millions of tons of sediment being released into the river.

Two years ago Leaf Hillman was a finalist for an American Indian leadership award from Howard and Peter Buffett for his role in a campaign to remove four dams from the Klamath River along the California-Oregon border.
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A coalition that wants to remove four dams to restore salmon migration on the Klamath River along the California-Oregon border will bring its campaign to Omaha, timed to the Berkshire Hathaway meeting. The dams are operated by PacifiCorp, which Berkshire Hathaway bought last year.
Next week he will be among about 40 American Indians, commercial fishermen, environmentalists and others bringing the dam removal campaign to the Buffett brothers' father in Omaha.

The reason: Last year Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. bought PacifiCorp, which owns and operates those Klamath River dams. And an estimated 26,000 Berkshire shareholders will be in Omaha for their annual meeting.

The meeting's national attention often attracts groups seeking to publicize their causes, but the Klamath River group may be the largest such delegation yet.

"I have been working on this issue for most of my life," Hillman said from Orleans, Calif. "I'm a staunch supporter of dam removal."
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PacifiCorp is discussing a settlement and favors investing hundreds of millions of dollars in "fish ladders" and other ways to restore salmon migration to the remote river basin, while continuing to generate electricity from water running through the dams' hydroelectric power plants. Federal agencies recommend the "fishway" improvements.

"The real key issue for us is that it's all about the salmon and the steelhead and trying to come to a solution that allows for reintroduction of these fish up and down the river," said Bill Fehrman, a former Nebraskan who is president of PacifiCorp.

"We believe, frankly, that there are ways to that which would allow us to continue to have emission-free energy from the dams."

Fehrman said he will be at the Berkshire meeting, too.

"They're certainly within their First Amendment rights to come," he said. "It has absolutely no impact on anything that we would do or not do, and really has no impact at all on our negotiations."

Starting today, dam removal advocates plan to hold press events in San Francisco, Sacramento and Salt Lake City on the way to Omaha.

Once here, they plan to demonstrate to explain their cause to Berkshire shareholders and hold a ceremonial "brush dance" aimed at healing a river that they say is damaged by the dams.

Hillman may even raise a question at the shareholders' May 5 meeting at the Qwest Center Omaha. The group says the efforts will be nonconfrontational.

"From what we can tell, Warren Buffett seems like a good guy," said S. Craig Tucker, campaign coordinator for the Karuk Tribe of California. "He seems like a smart businessman. I think we have a very strong case. We're not looking for charity. We're looking for a business deal that works for him and doesn't destroy our river."

The four tribes in the Klamath basin - Karuk, Hoopa and Yurok from northern California and the Klamath from southern Oregon - held similar demonstrations in 2004 and 2005 at shareholder meetings of PacifiCorp's former owner, Scottish Power.

Hillman and Tucker say the demonstrations were a factor in Scottish Power's decision to sell the company to Berkshire. But officials for PacifiCorp and Scottish Power say there was no connection.

Tucker said the group hopes that Buffett and the shareholders will influence PacifiCorp to remove the dams.

"We can't say this is all Warren Buffett's responsibility because he just bought the company," Tucker said. "But what we do want Warren Buffett and the other investors to understand is that their business is behaving in a very socially irresponsible manner."

The timing is important because for the first time in decades PacifiCorp is applying to renew its federal and state licenses for the dams and power plants.

The oldest of the dams was built in 1917 and the latest in 1962. Tucker and Kelly Catlett of the Friends of the River in Sacramento say today's wildlife and anti-pollution laws, plus tribal rights agreements with the federal government, should prevent the dams from getting new licenses.

The dams shut off migration of salmon, steelhead trout and lamprey eels to the upper reaches of the Klamath basin and have reduced migration below the lowest dam. Last year federal authorities prohibited commercial salmon fishing along a 700-mile stretch of the West Coast because of the low migration numbers.

Hillman said the salmon are inseparable from the region's tribal culture: "Our ceremonies are dictated and timed around the migration of the salmon."

Much of the argument is about money.

If PacifiCorp invests $300 million in fish ladders, screens and other improvements, it would be entitled to recoup the money through electricity rates paid by its customers. No one knows who would pay to have the dams removed, or how much, if anything, PacifiCorp would be paid for giving up the dams.

Dave Kvamme, a PacifiCorp spokesman, said the company is willing to compromise if its consumers can be assured of reliable sources of electricity and if PacifiCorp is compensated for losing the dams.

Catlett, from Sacramento-based Friends of the River, argues that the dams can't qualify for new licenses under current federal and state laws and thus will become a liability, not an asset worthy of compensation.

The California Energy Commission said in December that removing the dams would cost less than building the fish ladders.

Kvamme disagreed, saying nobody knows the true cost of removing the dams. He said it may cost between $1.5 billion and $4.5 billion just to remove and treat the millions of tons of sediment behind the dams.

In addition, he said, state governments on the West Coast are requiring power companies to use more renewable energy sources, and hydroelectric power is the most reliable renewable energy available.

Kvamme said the dams generate enough electricity for 70,000 homes.

Fehrman, a former Nebraska Public Power District executive who became PacifiCorp president with Berkshire's purchase last year, said protecting the environment is a core value of PacifiCorp.

"We'll continue to work with the groups for as long as it's fruitful and there's a chance of an outcome that can meet the needs of the parties," he said.

Hillman, the tribal official, said the groups will continue working with PacifiCorp to see the dams removed.

"We will see them in Omaha," he said. "If they want to stand with us to make the (dam removal) announcement, we would love that. But if they want to fight, we'll continue to fight."



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