Decision likely by the March 2012 decline
By Ty Beaver
Herald & News
Federal authorities studying the feasibility of Klamath River dam removal are on schedule and say the U.S. Secretary of the Interior should be able to make a decision by the March 2012 deadline.
Meanwhile, Oregon utility officials gave final approval to a customer surcharge that pays for a portion of the removal. And in November, Klamath Basin voters will voice their opinions on the issue in an advisory measure.
But the outcome of the vote or any decisions on the surcharge won’t impact feasibility studies, federal officials say.
“No matter what happens externally when (Interior Secretary ken Salazar) signed the (Klamather Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, he committed himself to the process,” said Matt Baun, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The determination is required by the dam removal agreement signed in February The agreement also was signed by the governors of Oregon and California and stakeholders who crafted the document and the related Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which aims to allocate water resources in the Basin.
So far, results from only one of dozens of studies are available. Those results indicate that sediment behind three of the four dams does not contain dangerous levels of toxins. The fourth dam was not tested.
Baun said the rest of the studies, covering everything from water quality and biology to economic and engineering issues, should be completed in coming months.
Four science panels also will provide input on management of several fish species that reside throughout the river’s watershed.
"Federal authorities are conducting most of the studies, with input from experts and stakeholders when needed,” Baun said.
Kevin Moore, spokesman for the Klamath Falls office of the US. Bureau of Reclamation, said there are about 20 different agencies involved.
"Reclamation has been selected as the lead agency to ensure compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act,” he said in an e-mail.
Though PacifiCorp, the parent company of Pacific Power, continues to own and operate the dams, company spokesman Art Sasse said company officials are primarilyvinterested observers and have no direct role.
Sasse said PacifiCorp also is continuing its relicensing process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in case dam removal isn’t feasible.
However, he said, a final report from the Oregon Public Utility Commission indicated the company’s decision to consider dam removal was sound with fair and reasonable costs to Pacific Power’s ratepayers.
"They were pretty emphatic,” he said of the agency’s decision.
Baun said there have been no slowdowns or unexpected problems and Salazar or his successor should be able to make the determination on schedule.