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Commissioners consider monument fight

November 24, 2016

Klamath County is entertaining the possibility of challenging the expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument with help from Stillwater Technical Solutions, a Kansas-based consulting firm.

Discussed during commissioners’ regular meeting Tuesday, Commissioner Jim Bellet said Stillwater is currently helping San Juan County, Utah, challenge efforts to establish a 1.9 million acre monument in Southeastern Utah.

Bellet said Stillwater was the subject of a meeting with Jackson County commissioners Nov. 10 during which the firm’s managing partner James Carlson outlined a potential plan to curtail local monument expansion.

Carlson is an attorney with experience in environmental policy and, in addition to working for Stillwater, is executive director of the Kansas Natural Resource Coalition. While meeting with Jackson County Carlson estimated it would cost around $60,000 for his firm to challenge the proposal.

Carlson’s strategy

Bellet said Carlson’s strategy would be to inundate the federal Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) with paperwork and information to delay a recommendation to President Barak Obama.

“(Carlson) discussed how you can delay designation of the monument by putting an awful lot of things in front of the people that make that decision,” said Bellet.

“That’s what Stillwater wants to do, push it to the point that it’s so confusing and convoluted that (CEQ) would not recommend it to the president,” Bellet continued. “That’s what it boils down to.”

Bellet said part of providing information to CEQ would include sending representatives of Klamath, Jackson and Sisikyou counties within the next week to Washington, D.C. and personally petition the council. Bellet acknowledged the majority of Jackson County commissioners were opposed to this strategy though fellow Klamath County Commissioner Tom Mallams acknowledged the impact personal testimony has as opposed to ending paperwork.

“Individual accounts, I think, carry more weight than the documentation,” said Mallams, adding paperwork sent to CEQ was likely “on a table in a box and some staffer might look at it, maybe, but that is certainly doubtful.”

Impact of testimony

Mallams also questioned whether or not CEQ has ever changed its mind after receiving testimony and said the success of such a strategy would depend on whether or not the council is in the habit of blindly approving recommendations.

“That would be my only concern, if they would be receptive and if they have a past history of rubber stamping recommendations,” said Mallams.

Bellet said Jackson County was similarly concerned and some of their commissioners believed it may be a waste of time and effort to further petition CEQ if the information and testimony they have sent so far would be insufficient. Bellet said a fallback strategy would be to wait and see if Obama approves monument expansion before his term ends in January then decide whether or not to litigate the matter.

The Association of O&C Counties, of which Klamath and Jackson counties are members, has already declared their intent to consider litigation against monument expansion as many of the 66,500 acres slated for expansion are part of the O&C Lands Act. The act, passed in 1937, set aside 2.6 million acres of timber land in Oregon and set minimum standards for the harvest and sale of timber in these acres.

Proposal review

Klamath County Commissioner Kelley Minty Morris, who serves on the association’s board, said she would favor letting the association take the lead regarding potential litigation of monument expansion. She said she would also want to allow county staff to review the proposal from Stillwater before making a decision to accept or decline the firm’s support.

“There may be some reasoning in there that our staff doesn’t think is sound,” she said.

Jackson County has already received a recommendation from their legal counsel against Stillwater’s proposal, saying the legal arguments the firm intends to use have not been successful in the past.

Bellet said his goal was not to reach a decision Tuesday but rather to keep fellow commissioners informed of recent developments.

Commissioners agreed to forward the matter to county staff and they intend to address the matter again during a future meeting.