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More than 80 people speak at hearing about settlement

by Ty Beaver, Herald and News 2/13/08

   Tom Mallams, a Beatty irrigator off the Klamath Reclamation Project, says the proposed K lamath Basin Restoration Agreement would destroy agriculture.
   But Tricia Hill says the agreement could provide stability for her family in Klamath County, allowing her children to be raised in a rural community.
   More than 80 people provided testimony Monday before the Klamath County Board of Commissioners about the proposed water settlement. Farmers, ranchers and other residents not involved in agriculture attended from as far away as Swan Lake, Beatty and Bly. Many said they were glad to have the opportunity to speak and air their concerns.
   Klamath Water Users Association president rescinds his signature on a letter demanding negotiations be reopened.
   Each speaker was limited to three minutes.
   “I think what we need the most is answers to our questions,” said Sprague River resident Vince Belleci.
   Stakeholders released the 256-page agreement document Jan. 15 after two-and-a-half years of negotiation. If approved, it would allocate water in the Klamath River Basin watershed between irrigators, tribes, fishermen and conservationists.
   It also seeks removal of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River owned by Portland-based Pacifi-Corp.
   Klamath County
   Klamath County is one of three counties in the midst of public hearings about the agreement. The county’s first public hearing Feb. 4 included presentations from those involved in the settlement talks.
   Commissioner John Elliott made a short presentation Monday night about the impact the agreement would have on Klamath County. The settlement would provide about $3.7 million in property tax compensation and economic development to county coffers.
   Elliott said his involvement was to avoid future litigation and legislation and to bring community leaders together to solve problems.
   Commissioner Bill Brown said after the presentation that he shared Elliott’s perspective.
   More than half of those who testified opposed the agreement or called for reopened negotiations. Many of those opposed were off-Project irrigators and others who attended a meeting hosted by the Klamath Off-Project Water Users and Klamath Basin Alliance earlier in the day.
   Opponents said they were disappoint ed the agreement doesn’t include provisions for increasing water storage and called for the removal of clean, energy-producing dams. They say it leaves off-Project irrigators out in the cold.
   “It seems not only like I wasn’t asked to dance, but that I wasn’t even invited to the ball,” said rancher Greg Harris.
   Several individuals said they were disappointed in Elliott’s efforts, saying he didn’t fully represent the county in the talks and that the financial compensation wasn’t enough to counter the losses.
   Proponents talked about possible consequences of not reaching a settlement and instead dealing with a less-friendly federal government in the future. Members of the Klamath and Yurok tribes said they’ve dealt with opposition to the agreement in their communities as well, but they want all the parties to benefit, not just some.
   A need to end the conflict within the Basin was another theme. On-Project irrigators and others present during the 2001 water crisis said they saw the agreement as a path to stability and away from the feuds and anger of the past.
   “Let’s stop being negative and get on with this,” said rancher Gerda Hyde.
Executive director defends commissioner

   Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said he was disappointed in negative comments directed toward the Klamath County Board of Commissioners during a Monday night public hearing.
   The board, especially Commissioner John Elliott, was criticized for not thoroughly representing all the interests of the county during talks on the proposed Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.
   Addington said he sat at the table with Elliott during many of the talks and considered him a statesman who refused to take sides.
   “I believe he was looking out for the best interests of the whole county,” he said.
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