SACRAMENTO — After complaints from U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa and others that their latest agreement was being crafted in secret, agencies planning the removal of four dams from the Klamath River announced a public meeting for March 16 to discuss the plan.
The Klamath Basin Coordinating Council will consider formally amending a set of 2010 agreements on the future of the Klamath Basin and take public comments during a 1 p.m. meeting at the California Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Sacramento.
The meeting comes after PacifiCorp, the states of California and Oregon and two federal agencies announced plans in February to set up a private entity to handle the four dams’ removal by seeking a go-ahead from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The new pact drew vocal complaints from LaMalfa, R-Calif., after two of his staff members showed up at private meetings scheduled to discuss the proposal and were asked to sign confidentiality agreements, which they refused to do.
LaMalfa criticized the Klamath proponents for scheduling their meeting in Sacramento rather than the Klamath Basin or Yreka, Calif., which is near where three of the four dams operate.
“Thanks a lot for having it six hours away from the people who are affected by it,” LaMalfa said. “It makes me furious that they haven’t had any public meetings at all and now their best effort is to have it in Sacramento at the highly guarded EPA building.
“They need to have it in Yreka,” he told the Capital Press. “We’ll press for that. It doesn’t end there.”
Ed Sheets, the meeting’s coordinator, did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
LaMalfa has ruffled feathers in recent days after grilling Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor during a hearing in Washington, D.C. about the agency’s role in the latest dam removal proposal, which was crafted after Congress’ failure to pass an authorization bill caused the original agreements to expire at the end of 2015.
When asked if he believes his complaints prompted the public meeting, LaMalfa said, “It couldn’t have hurt because I know they’re not very pleased that we’re publicizing what they’ve been up to.”
LaMalfa’s gripes follow those of Oregon state Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, who said the plan to set up the private entity to handle dam removal should still require congressional approval because it’s an interstate compact.
Whitsett’s argument is based on a legal opinion he received from Oregon Legislative Counsel Dexter Johnston, who told him in a letter that “any interstate compact that creates a joint entity, or that affects matters explicitly reserved to the federal government … is unconstitutional unless approved by Congress.”
The senator also complained about the proponents’ perceived secrecy.
“I am at a total loss for how the staff for the governors of Oregon and California and the Department of the Interior can meet behind closed doors” to discuss policy, Whitsett told the Capital Press.
Proponents of the agreements say they’re fundamentally a legal settlement that aims to resolve long-standing differences and grievances over various issues, including tribal rights, water rights and the fate of PacifiCorp’s private assets.
“These settlement meetings have always had confidentiality agreements that the parties have signed,” said Beatty, Ore, cattle rancher Becky Hyde, who represents the Upper Klamath Water Users and has worked on the pacts since their beginning. “That’s just the way these settlements work.
“It is about my water rights, and how my water rights are affected by somebody else who has legal rights,” she said. “Personally I could care less about a confidentiality agreement, but these are people’s legal rights. … At some point PacifiCorp is trying to figure out what to do with a very big part of its portfolio.”
Such agreements “are common and even expected in all sorts of settlement discussions,” PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely said in an email, noting that new parties who joined the discussions recently have agreed to abide by the same rules.
Hyde vehemently rejects the notion that the process has been secretive, noting that LaMalfa chief of staff Mark Spannagel and field representative Erin Ryan were welcomed into two of the planning group’s meetings. During the second meeting in Portland, Ryan was texting updates to LaMalfa on the proceedings, Hyde said.
She said charges of secrecy have long been part of the playbook for those in the Klamath Basin who’ve resisted settlements over water.
“There has been this thing I’ve watched play out in the last 18 years that’s starting to just replay itself over and over again, and I don’t trust it anymore,” Hyde said. “People who are not focused on finding a settlement in the Klamath Basin and Siskiyou County … have repeatedly played this card of closed-door, secret meetings.
“We’re tired, and frankly my water is going to get shut off this summer again if I don’t have an agreement with the Klamath Tribes,” she said. “My community is already going broke and I’ve had it with these people … I am fine with their point of view, but it is no longer fine to just lie.”
The latest controversy continues more than a decade of division in the Klamath Basin over the agreements, which were first unveiled in 2010 and whose 42 signatories included Oregon and California officials, federal agencies, local water districts, water users’ groups, environmental groups, tribes and other entities.
Continued opposition from LaMalfa and other House of Representatives Republicans caused authorization bills to languish in Congress since 2011. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., a longtime opponent of dam removal, unveiled an eleventh-hour draft bill in December to move forward on other aspects of the agreement while putting approval of dam removal in the lap of FERC, but no efforts were made to merge it with one by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., which included dam removal.
PacifiCorp has been collecting a surcharge from ratepayers to raise $200 million for dam removal and now plans to cover any further costs with non-federal funds, including money from California’s Proposition 1, a $7.5 billion water bond passed in 2014.
The March 16 meeting will be held in the Sierra Hearing Room on the second floor of the California EPA Building, 1001 I St. Visit http://www.klamathcouncil.org for details.