Still unconvinced Klamath River dam removal wouldn’t result in excessive silt at Crescent City Harbor, Del Norte County supervisors are asking the nonprofit organization behind the effort to set aside mitigation dollars.
With a 4-1 vote Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors directed Community Development Director Heidi Kunstal to draft a letter to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation with its request. Supervisor Roger Gitlin dissented.
Though he stated his colleagues’ points are valid, Gitlin urged them to wait, citing a March 11 letter from the nonprofit to board Chair Lori Cowan promising mitigation measures should the Crescent City Harbor experience negative impacts from the dam removal project.
“We can always come back with this letter of concern, but there’s so many unknowns here,” Gitlin said. “It’s incredulous for me to believe the dams removal several hundred miles up into Siskiyou County and this impending silt mountain will be coming down this river. My concern is more with the mouth of the Klamath as it goes out into the Pacific and how it meanders its way north and happens to possibly end up into our harbor. It’s a hard journey for me to understand, even understanding the currents and what they are.”
For about two months, KRRC representatives have met with the Crescent City Council, the Crescent City Harbor and the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors to provide information about the dam removal process. Each local board has then sent a letter to the State Water Quality Control Board, which will decide whether to award a 401 Clean Water Certification to KRRC for removal of the Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2 and Iron Gate dams in Siskiyou County.
Created in 2016 as a result of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, KRRC is also tasked with removing the J.C. Boyle dam in Klamath County, Oregon. All four dams are currently owned by PacifiCorp, though KRRC is petitioning the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, to transfer the hydroelectric license from the utility to the nonprofit corporation. KRRC will also ask FERC to grant their surrender of that hydroelectric license, enabling the dam removal project to move forward.
Though their decisions weren’t unanimous, the Crescent City Council and Crescent City Harbor District commissioners sent letters of support for the dam removal project to the State Water Quality Control Board last month.
The county Board of Supervisors’ Feb. 12 letter to the Water Resources Control Board was more critical, stating the agency’s draft environmental impact report did not address potential impacts the project would have on the nearshore ocean environment.
The board called on KRRC to make assurances that those impacts and the dam removal project’s potential impacts to the recreational and commercial salmon fisheries would be directly mitigated.
In his March 11 letter to Cowan, KRRC CEO Mark Bransom cites the Water Resources Control Board’s draft environmental impact report statement that the short-term and long-term effects of the project’s sediment delivery into the Pacific Ocean would be “less-than significant given the relatively small amount of total sediment input from the reservoir,” but states that he understands Del Norte’s desire to plan for the worst-case scenario.
“I am pleased to report that KRRC has committed, as a condition of license surrender, to implement mitigation measures as necessary to address such impacts should they occur and to protect maritime navigation in, for instance, Crescent City Harbor,” Bransom writes. “This commitment has been filed in KRRC’s comments to the State Water Resources Control Board’s Draft Environmental Impact Report regarding the proposed project.”
Bransom states the impact could be accomplished either through insurance, direct performance by the project company or a liability transfer corporation.
On Tuesday, KRRC Director of Communications Matt Cox told the Triplicate the liability transfer corporation would be determined when the nonprofit hires a contractor for the project. Part of the total contract would include insurance, Cox said, but KRRC hasn’t hired such a person yet.
“It’s precipitate to say exactly how it would all work out, unfortunately,” Cox said. “We haven’t selected a contractor. We anticipate having it nailed down this spring, the contractor, and that’s part of what a contractor can or will (do).”
At the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, Gitlin pointed out there are still “moving parts here.”
“I would ask this item be tabled until a contractor is announced and the insurance consideration is discussed so that can be made available to our board,” he said.
Supervisor Chris Howard, who requested the board’s letter regarding mitigation dollars, disagreed with Gitlin. Since the board’s previous discussion about the project, Howard said, several communities that could potentially be impacted by dam removal are seeking mitigation.
“It’s my understanding that a lot of this mitigation has been asked for to date,” Howard said, adding that KRRC has set aside $450 million for mitigation. “It’s also my understanding that the Yurok Tribe has requested substantial mitigation. I have yet to receive a figure on that or what it was for, but I was told it was in the amount close to $50 million. I’ve also been told that the City of Yreka will receive some form of compensation.”
Howard said he also disagrees with the Water Resources Control Board’s draft environmental impact report regarding the Klamath River’s currents. He noted while currents from the Klamath River may flow south during the summer, they move north when the river’s water levels are high.
“That’s why we see the accumulation of sediments in crabbing beds and more specifically in our harbor and we have challenges dredging those materials out,” Howard said. “Ensuring the mitigation is available for those sediments, I think, is extremely important for us.”
Howard also mentioned potential impacts to the recreational and commercial salmon fisheries, noting that representatives with the spring guiding industry placed a $500,000 figure for the loss of the spring season on the Klamath River. He said the loss of the recreational fall chinook fishery was estimated to be about $120,000 annually.
“We do have estimates on recreational fishing impacts that we’ve had guides put together in years past when we’ve had closures in the recreational fishery,” Howard said. “As for commercial aspects, I wouldn’t know where to touch that.”
In their presentations before local elected officials, KRRC representatives have stated funding for the dam removal effort is coming from a PacifiCorp utility surcharge totaling $200 million.
In a presentation before the Crescent City Harbor District last month, PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely said the surcharge is capped at $200 million. If the utility were to relicense the dams, it would have to implement federally-mandated improvements, such as fish ladders, which would cost PacifiCorp an estimated $300 million, Gravely said.
The State of California also contributed $250 million from a voter-approved water bond to the dam removal project. According to KRRC’s Definite Plan, which is currently being reviewed by FERC, the estimated project cost totals $398 million. A copy of the plan is available at www.klamathrenewal.org/definite-plan.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at email@example.com .