County plays unofficial role in land negotiations
Published Oct 26, 2003
By BROOK REINHARD
While a proposal to return thousands of acres of
federal land to the Klamath Tribes is still only in
the discussion phase, Klamath County Commissioners
are working behind the scenes to make sure all their
constituents - including both Native Americans and
irrigators - are being heard.
The negotiations are really between the tribes and
federal government, so officially, there's little
the commissioners can do.
"It's going to be out of our hands, just like it was
out of our hands with the original land deal,"
Commissioner John Elliott said.
But, he added, "We hope to shape some of the
Elliott, along with Commissioner Steve West and
Chairman Al Switzer, will take part in a joint
meeting with the Tribes in mid-December to establish
West, the natural resources liaison for the county,
said it's encouraging that irrigators and the Tribes
have maintained good relationships without being
derailed by "extremist" environmental groups like
the Oregon Natural Resources Council.
"I would be so bold to suggest that even the ONRC
and other extremist environmental groups would
acknowledge the relationship between the Tribes and
water users is improving," he said.
West said negotiating with the various parties is an
important part of his job.
"Quite frankly, that kind of work doesn't make
headlines, and when I've done the best, people
probably won't know I've done it," he said.
The commissioner added in any given period of time,
he's in communication with U.S. Fish and Wildlife
officials, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials, the
water users, the Klamath Tribes, Bureau of
Reclamation and Department of the Interior officials
in Washington, D.C., and various officials in Salem
Switzer said the board will be doing everything it
can to see that its constituents get their fair
"We don't have a role in negotiations per se, but we
do have a role and an obligation to represent the
people of this community," he said. "We can
certainly let (federal officials) know how
(constituents) are feeling in this community."
He added in spite of recent announcements that the
Klamath Tribes are not in favor of a
land-for-water-rights swap, he thinks a similar plan
would give the best deal to both sides.
"I think you have to solve some of the problems of
irrigators and agriculture along with this, or you
cause more problems," he said.
Elliott said there are still many aspects of the
proposal that still need to be worked through. There
are still some questions and issues he thinks need
to be addressed. Would Native Americans on a
reservation still be his constituents? What would
happen to federal forest dollars currently used by
the county? What will landowners do when they need
to access roads that fall under the control of the
"I think it's a really challenging time," he said.
"It's challenging in the best sense of the word."
He added he's looking forward to the outcome of the
December meeting with the Klamath Tribes.
"It's going to be an excellent opportunity for all
individuals to know where we are, where we were and
where we're going," he said.
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