A deal that would restore fish habitat and remove four dams on the Klamath River has suffered a a political setback. The Klamath County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously this week to pull out of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, or KBRA.
However, it’s not clear how Klamath County plans to withdraw from the dam removal and river restoration deal.
The county counsel has yet to write the legal order withdrawing the county from the KBRA, and other signatories say the county recently signed on to a two year extension.
Greg Addington represents the Klamath Water Users Association, a group of farmers and irrigation districts that support the KBRA.
“We have a binding, enforceable agreement, and I do not think they can withdraw. I’m interested to see the paperwork next week and what that looks like,” Addington said.
County Commissioner Tom Mallams was elected late last year on a platform opposing the KBRA. He said the two year extension was signed by lame duck commissioners who were voted out for their position on the dams. Mallams hopes to convince Congress to oppose dam removal on the Klamath.
“The only thing we have is public opinion,” he said. “Public opinion is against this. And now we have two contiguous counties, Klamath County and Siskiyou County, opposing this direction.”
Power company PacifiCorp and other stakeholders signed the deal to remove the dams and restore fish habitat on the Klamath River back in 2010, but congress has yet to act on it.
Three of the dams targeted for removal don’t have fish ladders, and proponents of the KBRA say it will help populations of threatened salmon on the Klamath River and endangered suckerfish in Klamath Lake and provide a predictable supply of water for farmers.
Mallams said he believes ocean conditions have more of an impact on threatened salmon species than the dams, and transfering the dams to federal ownership and removing them will eliminate a significant source of property tax for Klamath County.
“We’re a county that’s strapped with declining revenue,” Mallams said. “We’re looking at well over a million dollars a year of lost tax revenue, on a permanent basis, if those dams come out. That’s the bottom line of the importance of the dams to Klamath County.”
Klamath County will lose considerable tax revenues if the dams come out, but Mallam’s estimate of how much may not be accurate.
Mallams said last year Klamath County received $504,000 in tax revenue for the J.C. Boyle Dam alone, but according to PacifiCorp records, the company paid Klamath County $125,000 in taxes on the JC Boyle Dam itself for the 2012/2013 tax year. The company says additional property associated with the J.C. Boyle Dam would no longer be taxed by the county, bringing the total annual property tax loss to $290,000.
Greg Addington, of the Klamath Water Users Association, says that the agreement could lead to some declines in tax revenue for the county but it includes provisions to help offset those losses with state lottery funds.
Correction: March 19, 2013: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the potential tax impact of removing the J.C. Boyle Dam on the Klamath River. Klamath County stands to lose $290,000 in annual property tax revenue.
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