Posted: Thursday, March 07, 2013 12:00 PM
Tim Hearden/Capital Press
Beatty, Ore., farmer Tom Mallams holds a sign at a rally in opposition to the Klamath Basin restoration and dam-removal projects in October 2011. He and other Klamath County commissioners voted Feb. 26 to withdraw from the project.
Other signatories say the agreement is a binding contract
By TIM HEARDEN
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. -- A county commissioner here rejected arguments from proponents of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement that Klamath County cannot legally withdraw from the pact.
Commissioner Tom Mallams, a longtime project critic, said the panel was fully within its rights when it voted 3-0 on Feb. 26 to have County Counsel David Groff draw up an order to drop out of the project.
The Board of Commissioners will take a final vote on the issue March 12, only a few months after a previous commission voted to join the 41 other signatories in agreeing to a two-year extension.
"One board cannot by law in Oregon bind a future board," said Mallams, a hay farmer from Beatty, Ore. "They cannot do it. They've been raising that argument, but in the KBRA meetings it was made very plain in all the discussions that if anybody wanted out, they would be let out.
"There was never, ever a concept of being forced to stay in it at all," he said.
Two other signatories -- the Karuk Tribe and the Klamath Water Users Association -- have said the county can't pull out because the agreement is a binding contract.
Ed Sheets, facilitator of the panel that oversees the project's implementation, told the Capital Press he has asked Groff to point to the language in the agreement the county is citing as its basis for withdrawing.
"There are only a few, very narrow provisions for a party to withdraw from the agreement," Sheets said.
One of those provisions is if a portion of the pact is found to violate existing laws, he said. The pact does acknowledge that one Congress cannot bind future congresses when it comes to the appropriation of money, but Sheets said he is unaware of similar language for other governmental bodies.
Groff said he could not comment about the county's legal position without consulting the commission further. He said Oregon law "is fairly consistent with other state bodies of law" regarding commissions' inability to bind future commissions.
The flap is only the latest in a long string of controversies and challenges facing the 3-year-old water agreement, which includes the removal of four dams from the Klamath River and numerous conservation efforts.
As funding and authorization has languished in Congress, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last year indefinitely put off making a final determination of the feasibility of the project, which he had hoped to do by this month.
The latest setback comes as tribes may be on the verge of having their senior water rights affirmed by a long and complex adjudication process. In addition, another biological opinion on the water needs of imperiled suckers and coho salmon is due out this spring.
Mallams said the KBRA was successful at bringing people together, but he argued the parties should scrap the current agreement and craft a new one that doesn't exclude some interested parties from the conversation.
"We need a settlement here," he said. "That's one thing I have been optimistic about is the tone in some of these last meetings we've had. The project irrigators and the tribes want us to be talking and that's great. That has changed somewhat, so I am optimistic that's what needs to happen."
Klamath County Board of Commissioners: http://www.klamathcounty.org/commissioners/
Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement: http://klamathrestoration.gov/
Posted By: Felice Pace On: 3/1/2013
Title: The Klamath Kabuki Theatre Drama continues!
Conceived in secret and containing hundreds of pages of legal jargon, drama and contradictions continue to surround the KHSA and KBRA - the Klamath Dam and Water Deals. Late last year we were told the deals would end if all "parties" (those who signed the original deals) did not vote to extend the agreements and for "amendments" that make them even worse than they were in original form. Now two of the parties - the Karuk Tribe and Klamath Water Users Association - are saying that those who signed the deals committed themselves forever and cannot withdraw now or at any point in the future!
This would be laughable if it was not so serious - Were these agreements signed in blood? Is there another secret pact which requires the signatories to make a human sacrifice before they can say enough is enough?
When these deals were signed, we were told that they would unite the Klamath River basin and end conflicts over water. Promoters no longer make those claims; they were obviously just propaganda. The truth is that these are special interest deals which favor some interests at the expanse of others. Any deal which favors some irrigators over other irrigators, some tribes over other tribes and some environmental interests over other interests cannot bring stability or an end to conflicts over water. The creators of the KBRA and KHSA failed because they were too greedy; they chose feathering their own nests over fairness and equity for all.
The sooner these deals are relegated to the trash bin of history the better.