Though the Trump Administration has withdrawn a letter of support for dam removal on the Klamath River, the spokesman for the nonprofit spearheading the effort says the project is still a go.
"The letter is not a requirement," said Matt Cox, director of communications for the Klamath River Renewal Corporation. "It wasn't meaningful in any way and the Department of the Interior is still a signatory to the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement."
In a May 17, 2019 letter to Kimberly Bose, secretary of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, current Interior Secretary David Bernhardt writes that he is withdrawing a 2016 letter then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell submitted stating it is "unnecessary to the current proceedings before FERC."
In his letter, Bernhardt said the Department of the Interior will "continue to engage with relevant parties and stakeholders on these and related Klamath Basin issues."
Jewell had submitted her letter to FERC on Oct. 17, 2016 in regards to FERC projects and applications filed as part of the Amended Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement. However, according to Bernhardt, the agreement "did not require submission of the 2016 letter from Secretary Jewell."
In April 2016 Jewell joined then-California Gov. Jerry Brown and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown along with a host of others at the mouth of the Klamath River to enter into the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, which includes the removal of four hydroelectric dams owned by PacifiCorp — the J.C. Boyle, Iron Gate and Copco 1 and 2.
In her October 2016 letter to Bose, Jewell said the Department of the Interior supported applications to remove the dam submitted by PacifiCorp and the KRRC. She noted that while the dams brought prosperity to many, their construction "came at a steep cost to tribes and fishing communities."
"More than 100 years later, we have a unique opportunity to restore this magnificent river. Importantly, we recognize that dam removal must be undertaken in a manner that protects all the uses of the river, including farming and ranching interests that are interwoven into the fabric of the basin," Jewell wrote.
On Thursday, Cox said Jewell's letter of support was meaningless and "taking it away is meaningless."
"The work we're doing to respond to FERC's questions and to show our ability to meet the requirements for transfer and surrender are wholly unaffected by the letter existing or not existing," Cox said.
Bernhardt's decision to withdraw the Interior Department's support letter for the dam removal project comes about a month after KRRC entered into a design-build contract with Kiewit Infrastructure West Co.
KRRC awarded an initial $18.1 million to the Fairfield-based firm for the design portion of the dam removal project and will authorize an additional award for Kiewit once that phase is finished.
Before dam removal can proceed, however, FERC must approve the transfer of the dams' hydroelectric license from owner PacifiCorp to KRRC. FERC must then approve a request from KRRC to surrender the license, terminating the dams' operation as a hydroelectric project.
According to Cox, KRRC will submit a revised draft of the project's definite plan to FERC by July 29. The ball will then be in FERC's court as to the future of the dam removal project, he said.
At recent presentations before the Crescent City Council, Crescent City Harbor District and Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, KRRC representatives have said $450 million has been allocated to the dam removal project. PacifiCorp has contributed $200 million through a surcharge on customers' utility bills, while the State of California has committed up to $250 million in voter-approved water bond funds.
The project is expected to cost $398 million, according to KRRC.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at email@example.com .