Comments demonstrate 'a lot of passion and information on both sides of the issue'

By TIM HEARDEN

Capital Press

YREKA, Calif. -- People now have until Dec. 30 to comment on the proposed removal of four dams from the Klamath River and related fisheries restoration efforts.

The federal government extended the deadline for comments on the nearly $1.1 billion project's environmental analyses, which were unveiled Sept. 21. The analyses claim the dam removals and related fisheries restoration efforts could help to significantly increase salmon harvests without directly affecting farmers' water supplies in the basin.

Siskiyou County, Calif., counsel Thomas Guarino and others have complained the Nov. 21 deadline for comments didn't give them enough time to examine the hundreds of pages of documents.

Dennis Lynch, a program manager for the U.S. Geological Survey who is working on the Klamath project, said public comments are "a critical component" in shaping the decision of whether to remove the dams. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is expected to determine the project's feasibility next spring.

"The Department of the Interior and the California Department of Fish and Game listened to the numerous requests to extend the comment period ... and determined that it is in the best interest of the public to give additional time to review and comment," Lynch said in a statement.

The extension comes as a bill authorizing the project was introduced Nov. 10 by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif. The bill would establish a formal planning process for removing the four dams, which the government asserts would create as many as 4,600 jobs in the Klamath Basin.

More than 2,700 comments on the project's environmental documents had been received as of early last week, according to Matthew Baun, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"I think it's fair to say (the comments are) a reflection of what we've seen in the meetings -- a lot of passion and information on both sides of the issue of dam removal," Baun said.

Hundreds of people gave testimony at a half-dozen public meetings on the project in Southern Oregon and Northern California in late October. In Klamath Falls, Ore., and Yreka, Calif., demonstrators on both sides of the issue gathered before the evening's meeting with signs and banners.

Online

Klamath Economic Restoration Act: http://www.klamathrestoration.org/images/stories/pdfs/11-8-11_Klamath_Legislation_Draft_END11921.pdf

Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement studies and EIS/EIR: http://klamathrestoration.gov

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