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Closed meetings continue

published Nov. 6, 2003

Unofficial discussions continue between feds and interested parties in water and land issues


Another meeting in a series of closed-door gatherings will be held Friday by a group of individuals discussing some of the Klamath Basin's most contentious land and water issues.

Joining the group will be Bill Bettenberg, director of the U.S. Interior Department's Office of Policy and Analysis. Bettenberg is the Bush administration's point man in seeking a long-term solution for the Klamath Basin that could include restoration of an reservation for the Chiloquin-based Klamath Tribes.

The group, which has no name and conducts its meetings without disclosing its proceedings, has met at least four times over the past two months as various parties became acquainted with each other.

About a dozen participate in the meetings, representing such groups as the Tribes, the Klamath Water Users Association, irrigators from above Upper Klamath Lake, and the Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust.

Kurt Thomas, a board member of the Rangeland Trust and participant in the unnamed group, said the group has agreed to limit its size in hopes of making more progress during meetings.

"They have been very casual," he said.

Bettenberg is overseeing the federal government's negotiations with the Klamath Tribes over land issues, and is closely tracking PacifiCorp's relicensing of its hydroelectric project on the Klamath River.

Bettenberg came to the Basin and met with the group in early October, when he gave a presentation showing the outcome of different water management scenarios, but he didn't have a specific proposal for a comprehensive solution.

Hugh Vickery, Interior Department spokesman, said Bettenberg won't come with one this week, either.

"He's not going to be putting forward a package," he said, responding to questions from the Herald and News.

Thomas said some have been calling the informal talks "secret meetings," because there have been a limited number of people involved.

He said the primary interests involved wanted to keep the group small, because it would have the best chance of getting something substantial done.

"You can't have everyone at the meetings," he said.

The group has expanded some since the first meeting. Bob Sanders, a long-time Sprague River Valley irrigator and Doug Whitsett, president of Water for Life, were added to the meetings to give more representation of people from above Upper Klamath Lake.

Thomas said they tried to have representatives from as many groups as possible, while keep the numbers under control.

To make any progress, he said, many had to leave many old feelings at the door.

"One requirement is, don't talk about 2001 or all the bad things that have happened. We need to keep an eye on the future," Thomas said. "This thing is how do you get a comprehensive, proactive solution in front of the leaders of our country."

The Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust, a non-profit organization that uses federal funds to lease rangeland in order to decrease irrigation demand, is at the center of the discussions because it got the different groups to come together, Thomas said.

He said the Rangeland Trust was talking separately with the Tribes, the Klamath water users, the government and others and realized there were many things that the groups could potentially agree on.

He said the meetings are completely unofficial, and are not formal negotiations.

No minutes are taken. Main thoughts and ideas are scribbled on a grease board, but then erased at the end of the meeting, Thomas said.

After the second meeting, Thomas said he didn't think there would be any more because the groups had so many differences.

He said the group kept meeting mostly because of the determination of Becky Hyde, a Sprague River irrigator, who has said she is involved in the talks because she wants to keep her family in agriculture.

At the last meeting the group decided to put some of its ideas down in writing, Thomas said.

What they came up with is a 12-point plan that could be part of what the group calls an "Upper Klamath Basin Solution."

Thomas said the points are rough ideas the group came up with, and many represent the desires of one or more of the stakeholders.

He said a recent series of tours helped the different groups understand each other's issues from a ground level and let the groups get to know each other.

When the meetings started, Thomas said he hoped a solution could be found in 60 to 90 days. He said he doesn't know if that goal will be reached.

"I think a solution exists," he said. "I think a solution will have everyone sharing some pain."

Reporter Dylan Darling covers natural resources. He can be reached at 885-4471, (800) 275-0982, or by e-mail at ddarling@heraldandnews.com.

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