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JC Boyle Dam Powerhouse

A view of the John C. Boyle Dam Powerhouse in July. The dam nets a bit less than $500,000 in property taxes annually for the county. However, that amount is in dispute.

A protest over the wording of an advisory ballot issue regarding removal of four dams on the Klamath River has been filed by a group of Basin farmers.

The Klamath County Commissioners last week voted 2 to 1 to place the advisory issue before voters on the Nov. 8 ballot. It asks voters simply if the dams should be kept or removed. The vote does not have the force of law, and is simply advisory.

However, if anyone challenges the wording of the ballot language, the issue heads to court. Tracey Liskey, Susan Liskey, Ed Bair and Greg Carleton filed the appeal Thursday in Klamath County Circuit Court.

The group claims the subject of the ballot measure “is not and cannot be simply ‘dam removal’ because removal of the dams is occurring only in the context of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, a specific agreement with specific terms that PacifiCorp has entered into with the states of Oregon and California, the United States, certain tribes and other parties, and which the Oregon Public Utility Commission has approved.”

Further the vote should be about the hydroelectric dams in Klamath County, not all dams on the river, the petition said.

Pacific Power, subsidiary of PacifiCorp, the utility that privately owns the dams, supports the challenge, it said in a news release.

“While Pacific Power supports the right of local governments to seek advisory votes from citizens, the Klamath County Commission’s ballot question contains several errors that should be changed by the court so that voters have accurate information,” the utility’s release said.

“Just asking whether the county should support or not support dam removal doesn’t give voters an accurate view of the economic consequences,” said Scott Bolton, Pacific Power’s vice president for external affairs. “This has always been about whether a negotiated outcome is a less expensive and a better way forward for our customers than proceeding with uncapped potential cost and risk.”

Both the Oregon and California public utility commissions supported the KHSA as being in the best interest of customers, the release said.

Commissioners Tom Mallams and Jim Bellet voted to place the measure on the ballot. Commissioner Kelley Minty Morris opposed it.

Mallams said Friday that, “It’s a sad state of affairs when the utility and its high-powered, expensive lawyers will deny the citizens the right to a yes or no vote on the dams. Very simply, voters want their opinion known.” He noted that taxpayers and ratepayers may now foot the legal bills.

Mallams acknowledged that there may be some factual errors in the original draft language, but that could be easily remedied, he said.

Tax impact overstated

The utility’s release said, “The two outgoing Klamath County commissioners who voted to put the advisory vote on the ballot also have overstated the tax impact to Klamath County if the J.C. Boyle dam is removed and the Keno dam is transferred to federal ownership as would happen under the Klamath agreement.

“The two commissioners have publicly cited a $500,000 annual tax impact from implementation of the agreement. However, in 2015, the amount of property tax the company paid Klamath County associated with the J.C. Boyle and Keno dams was approximately $118,000.

“Despite this overstatement, Pacific Power remains one of the largest property taxpayers in Klamath County based on its existing asset base.

“In addition, Pacific Power is in the process of constructing the $56 million Snow Goose substation in Klamath County, which when completed in 2017 will provide tax revenue that will more than make up for any lost tax revenue associated with the two dams.”

Asked if he would accept the wording as proposed by the opposition, he adamantly said “no.”

“People don’t want to vote on the KHSA, that’s not what they asked us to do,” Mallams said.

Liskey’s petition asks that the ballot issue read, “Advisory vote on Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement” and that the question read, “Do you support the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement?”

A “yes” vote advises the county commission to support the agreement and a “no” vote advises them to oppose the agreement, the Liskey petition states. (For full disclosure, Tracey Liskey is a member of the Herald and News editorial board).

It is unclear if the petition will delay county ballots being printed. County Elections Clerk Linda Smith is away, attending a conference. The last day to file an item to get on the ballot is Tuesday, Aug. 30. If the court resolves the issue quickly, it could remain on the ballot. If it’s delayed a significant amount of time, it may not make the ballot. The commission is expected to discuss the issue at a special meeting Monday.