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Bush wants solution,  Secretary of Interior hopes dam agreement will help Basin

by Lee Juillerat, Herald and News 11/14/08

Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne said Thursday he hopes a nonbinding agreement to remove four Klamath River dams by 2020 fulfills a vision of peace for the Klamath Basin.

He joined Oregon and California leaders and PacifiCorp officials to announce the signing of the document that, if finalized, would remove the four dams to restore salmon runs on the Klamath River.

The estimated $450-million cost would be paid for with surcharges on PacifiCorp customers and a California general obligation bond, which must be approved by voters. About 500,000 power customers are in Oregon and another 45,000 live in California.

During a press conference after the signing, Kempthorne said he was dismayed by images from the Klamath Basin in 2001, when the federal government cut off water to irrigators.

He also said the dam removal was pushed by the Bush administration.

“The president has been desirous and made it very clear he wanted a solution,” Kempthorne said.

“It’s the first step in the process, but it’s a giant step.”

Kempthorne was joined at the teleconference by Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski; Mike Chrisman, California Secretary for Resources; and Greg Abel, PacifiCorp chairman and CEO.

If the agreement is finalized — a final draft must be signed by June 30, 2009 — it would enable the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, a proposed settlement that allocates water among farming, fisheries, tribal and conservation interests along the 250-mile Klamath River watershed.

If a binding agreement is signed, the U.S. Department of the Interior would have 3-1/2 years to study impacts of the proposal before deciding if dam removal is appropriate.

Under the agreement’s timetable, a decision on whether to remove the dams would be made by President- elect Barack Obama’s Secretary of the Interior in 2012.

Energy to be replaced

Kulongoski on Thursday pledged to have legislation introduced to create a dam removal fund and said the dams would be replaced “with even better renewable energy.”

The agreement would remove four hydroelectric dams — J.C. Boyle, Copco 1 and 2, and Iron Gate. J.C. Boyle is in Klamath County. The other dams are in California.

Kempthorne, a former Idaho governor and self-described conspicuous opponent of removing hydropower projects in the West, termed removal of the Klamath dams a good business decision. Asked if the proposal sets a precedent that could lead to other dam removals, he replied, “We have to evaluate situations on a case-bycase basis.”

Kulongoski said time is needed to allow Oregon and California to collect the money — up to $200 million from PacifiCorp surcharges and as much as $250 million through the California general obligation bond — and avoid “rate shock.”

The surcharges would be $1.50 a month for residential customers and 2 percent of the bills of nonresidential users, such as irrigators.

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