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http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/local/states/california/northern_california/12109170.htm
 Jul. 11, 2005
 

Tribes, fishermen, conservationists returning to Scotland to argue against dams




Associated Press

 

Representatives of Indian tribes, commercial fishermen and conservationists are returning to Scotland to try to build pressure on PacifiCorp's parent company to give salmon a way over dams on the Klamath River before selling the utility.

A delegation of about 20 people representing the Yurok, Hoopa, Karuk and Klamath tribes, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and Friends of the River will reach out to stockholders, investment groups and executives of Scottish Power at the company's annual meeting July 22 in Glasgow, Scotland. They made a similar trek to the annual meeting last year in Edinburgh.

"We made a commitment to their board of directors and president, CEO, that if we weren't satisfied with how things were going that we would be back," said Leaf Hillman, vice chairman of the Karuk Tribe in an interview from Arcata, Calif. "So we are going back."

Scottish Power has agreed to sell PacifiCorp to MidAmerican Energy, a utility controlled by Warren Buffett through his investment company Berkshire Hathaway, for $5.1 billion, plus the assumption of $4.3 billion in debt.

PacifiCorp's application for a new operating license for the four dams, which produce about 150 kilowatts of power, does not include any provision for salmon passage, which has been blocked since construction began in 1908.

PacifiCorp has estimated it would cost $100 million to build fish ladders, but Hillman hopes to see the dams removed to restore access to 350 miles of spawning habitat and improve water quality.

Hillman said last year's talks with Scottish Power CEO Ian Russell pushed PacifiCorp into settlement negotiations rather than leaving relicensing to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the coalition hoped for more progress this year.

Hillman said he was encouraged by talks Monday in Arcata with PacifiCorp CEO Judy Johansen and Gregory Abel, president of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., where the tribes were given a commitment to another meeting with Russell.

"We are hoping to be able to open a dialogue with MidAmerican to ensure they understand the tribes' position," Hillman said. "And a year or 18 months from now when the acquisition is complete, it will be no shocker to them that they are going to have to deal with the tribes on the Klamath River."

The Klamath River starts in Oregon, cuts through the Cascade Range, and flows through northwestern California to the Pacific Ocean. It once boasted the third-largest salmon runs on the West coast, but now sees a fraction of those returns. Efforts to protect the declining runs have forced steep cutbacks in Pacific salmon fishing. Tribes locked in poverty struggle to get enough fish to meet subsistence and ceremonial needs. The Karuk contend many of their health problems are related to the loss of salmon from their diet.

Jon Coney, spokesman for PacifiCorp, said Russell's message to the tribes all along has been "that this is a PacifiCorp relicensing."

The settlement talks under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing process "is the one single forum that has been established for all parties to work toward a solution to the Klamath Project."

Glen Spain, northwest director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, said the sale could take up to two years to get federal approval, and the license to operate the dams expires at the end of March 2006.

"So key decisions will still be made with Scottish Power making those decisions," Spain said. "It's on their watch."

Mike Belchik, a biologist for the Yurok Tribe, said the coalition was encouraged after getting a commitment from Russell last year to find a solution, but felt PacifiCorp appeared to be trying to keep the status quo.

PacifiCorp still maintains that the dams improve water quality by serving as settling ponds that remove agricultural pollution, Belchik said.

The delegation hopes to show Scottish Power stockholders the film, "Salmon on the Backs of Buffalo," explaining the suffering of river tribes because of the loss of salmon runs, Belchik said.

"Its a crisis right now," Belchik said.

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