Bill authorizing funding for Klamath restoration project stalls in Congress
By TIM HEARDEN
YREKA, Calif. -- As legislation authorizing the Klamath Basin dam removal and restoration project languishes in Congress, federal and local officials are working to keep the process moving.
Agencies planning the controversial removal of four dams from the Klamath River are still wading through more than 4,000 comments received on environmental documents that were unveiled in September 2011, Matthew Baun, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman here, said.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is apparently no closer to making a final determination of the feasibility of the dam-removal project, which he had hoped to do by March 31.
Salazar has mostly blamed Congress' lack of movement on a bill by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., that would authorize the $1.1 billion dam removal and environmental restoration project, which would include $536 million in new federal funds.
The environmental-impact statement identifies options including total removal of the dams and partial removal while leaving structures along the banks of the river intact.
"A final release date has not been identified," Baun said. "The team is responding to more than 4,000 public comments and making revisions based on the public comments."
Meanwhile, most of the original signatories of the pact that formed the basis for the Klamath project have agreed to extend certain deadlines, including the time for passage of federal legislation. They included the Klamath Tribes, whose members voted 508-77 this month to amend the agreement.
"We believe this is the best direction for dealing with Klamath Basin issues," said Jeff Mitchell, a tribal council member and negotiator for the Klamath agreement. "We still believe that Congress can get this done and we want to make sure that that opportunity is out there.
"We look forward to working with the 113th Congress to see if we can get this moved down the road," he said.
The authorization bill has faced stiff opposition from lawmakers including Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., who last year authored amendments to strip $1.9 million for dam removal studies from a stopgap spending measure. He called the project "madness" during a floor speech last year.
Further, for Salazar to make a determination, cash-strapped California still must identify a source of financing its share of the costs, which it has not yet done, Baun said. Factors that could determine California's level of participation include whether the chosen alternative will be to fully or partially remove the dams, state Department of Fish and Game environmental program manager Mark Stopher has said.
Another factor for California was a water bond measure that was planned for the November ballot, but that measure was postponed again.
PacifiCorp, which owns the dams, has continued to collect dam removal surcharges and has been exchanging engineering drawings with federal officials, spokesman Bob Gravely has said.
"I just believe that in 2013 we're going to get this deal done," Mitchell said. "We're going to be working hard to achieve that."
Klamath Basin restoration: http://klamathrestoration.gov/