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More questions than answers; Agency hearing on Klamath River dams draws about 100 in Yreka

by Lee Juillerat, Herald and News 1/30/09

   YREKA — Ther e were more questions than answers as the federal agency charged with overseeing operation of four Klamath River dams talked about its future role of the dams.
   A trio of representatives from the Federal E n e r g y R e g u l a t o r y Commission hosted two public meetings in Yreka Thursday. FERC has been involved in a several years-long process for relicensing the dams owned by PacifiCorp.
   A nonbinding dam r e m o v a l p r o p o s a l reached late last year by three federal agencies, the states of Oregon and California and PacifiCorp could eventually make that process moot. If PacifiCorp decides to remove the four dams, relicensing would not be necessary.
   Among questions unanswered during the three-hour afternoon session, which attracted about 100 people, including many Siskiyou County residents adamantly opposed to dam removal, was whether FERC
would be involved in ongoing negotiations for a final agreement. Under the timetable, a final agreement is required by June 29.
   When asked after the meeting if his agency would participate in the ongoing confidential talks, John Mudre, FERC’s project manager, answered, “Possibly. If they ask us.”
Several speakers said FERC should be involved in the negotiations because a final agreement will affect dam management during the years until the dams are removed. And, if the process breaks down or if future studies recommend against removing one or more dams, management would return to FERC and restart licensing process.
   Under the tentative timetable, scientific studies on the impact of removing the dams would be conducted until 2012, when the federal Department of the Interior would determine if benefits of removing the dams outweigh removal costs. Dam removal could begin by 2020.
   “The main reason we’re here is to understand how things would go forward,” said Ann Miles, FERC ’s director of hydropower licensing.
   “In reading it we have a number of questions,” said Tim Welch, FERC’s branch chief.
   Many questions, from FERC officials and a sometimes hostile audience, were answered by Dean Brockbank, PacifiCorp’s vice president and general counsel, and PacifiCorp special counsel Mike Swiger. Both said the power company wants to ensure the study process is objective and scientific, and said PacifiCorp aims to protect its customers.
   “We’ve had some very heated discussions about what is good for Siskiyou County and what is not,” Brockbank said. “You’re not being ignored.”
   Questions often devolved into arguments against the dams and criticism of agencies, but FERC officials said their goal was to learn how the dam removal proposal would affect the relicensing process. Pacifi-Corp is currently being granted yearly extensions to operate the four dams — Irongate, Copco 1 and 2 and J.C. Boyle.
   Siskiyou County counsel Tom Guarino urged FERC to be involved in the ongoing negotiations. He said Siskiyou County originally declined to participate in the talks because commissioners oppose dam removal, but agreed to participate in ongoing negotiations because a final agreement would have a significant impact on the county, where three of the four dams are located.
   “This is a tough project,” Miles said, calling the proposed agreement a hybrid.
   “We came as much to listen to talk,” Mudre said.

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