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Opinions vary on Klamath dam removal

World Photos by Lou Sennick Before the start of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission town hall meeting Wednesday in North Bend, Marcelle Lynde, left, takes the names of Daryl and Sally Bogardus. The Charleston couple were wearing survival suits to quietly make a point that the fishing industry is in need of emergency help.

A handful of commercial salmon trollers dressed in bright orange survival suits provided color to a meeting that dealt with issues that are anything but black and white.

At the request of Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission held an additional hearing Wednesday on the relicensing of four Klamath River dams in North Bend. Four other FERC meetings already were held in Klamath Falls, and Yreka and Eureka, Calif., and another meeting will be held in Newport tonight.

DeFazio requested the coastal hearing so that fishermen and coastal communities, constituents affected by a downturn of Klamath River fall Chinook populations, could comment on the draft environmental impact statement that could affect their futures. DeFazio planned to attend but was ill.


But he still had a voice at the hearing.

DeFazio aide Ron Kreskey was the first speaker, reading a statement from the congressman into the record.

“I would strongly urge FERC to reconsider and instead, at a minimum, to condition relicensing on the fishways recommended by the resource agencies. ... Further, I believe it makes sense to condition the license on outcomes-based research on the health of salmon populations. ... Granting a 50-year license only to find out in 10 or 20 years that the prescriptions proposed by the agencies, or alternatives proposed by Pacificorp, fail to protect salmon would condemn fishing families and the businesses and communities that rely on them to financial ruin,” his statement said.

Most of DeFazio's comments dealt with fish passage around the dams, for which various options were addressed in the environmental review. One option proposed by PacificCorp and supported by FERC staff, would involve trucking salmon around the dams. The National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service both concluded that, in the absence of dam removal, building fish passageways would be a better option and allow salmon and steelhead access to more habitat.

Much of the controversy over relicensing the Iron Gate, Copco 1, Copco 2 and J.C. Boyles dams has centered around removal of the dams. None were put in with fish passage in mind and some people believe removing them is the best option. Others promote the alternative of simply adding fish passages to the dams. One of the analyses in the environmental study also recommended removal of two dams.

It's a murky issue and one that wasn't made clearer Wednesday night. Representatives of the fishing industry provided substantial comments but offered no consensus on dam removal.

Fisherman and buyer Scott Boley, of Gold Beach, is for removing the dams, though he recognizes tearing them down might not happen right away and that the energy generation those dams provide must be taken into account.


But as far as restoring the health of the salmon, “I believe the only solution is to remove the dams,” Boley said.

Fisherman Paul Heikkila, who also supported dam removal, noted that even with fish passages included on the dams, fish can suffer with other problems, such as unstable water flows and parasites.

New technology could help, Charleston troller Rayburn Guerin said.

“As far as the dams go - it's not in our best interest to remove them,” he said, noting that new developments in fish ladders and other passageways could enable fish to return to the upper reaches.

One of the main problems is population growth, Guerin said. More people are moving to the coastal areas. The energy produced by the dams could be needed in the next 20 years or so.

But new technology could help. Tyler Long, from the Reedsport area, brought up the fact that harnessing the energy from ocean waves is looking like a viable alternative energy source in the future and could eliminate the need for the dams.

Some commenters dressed in the bright orange “gumby” suits, designed to increase fishermen's chances of survival if they go overboard in the ocean, underscored the necessity of economic survival.

Troller Jeff Reeves said the attire was to help draw attention for the need for federal financial assistance.

“We need and expect disaster funding,” Reeves said.

As far as removing the dams, it likely would take too long and fishermen need help now - for the fishing season next year and in upcoming years, he added.

But regardless of the dam issue, troller Paul Merz addressed something much more immediate: the relicensing itself.

“A 50-year license is ridiculous,” Merz said. “I have to buy a license every year.”

FERC's director of the division of hydropower licensing, Ann Miles, said the five-member commission will take the final environmental impact statement into consideration and decide to relicense the dams based on whether the dam operators do a little, medium or a lot of mitigation work.

“Most licenses are closer to the 30- to 40-year range,” Miles said.

Sport angler John Ward, president of the Southwest chapter of the Northwest Steelheaders, said recreational fishermen barely got a season but watched as commercial trollers were tied to the dock. It's not something he wants to see again.

“It hurts all of us,” Ward said of the limited seasons.

“You have important, difficult decisions to make and many factors to consider,” he said, “but the biggest factor is the fish.”

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              Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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