Brogoitti Pushes Water Projectby John McDonald
Capital Press - August 16, 2002
HELENA, Mont. -- In what could have been his last meeting as one of Oregon's two representatives on the Northwest Power Planning Council, John Brogoitti on Tuesday pushed for the approval of an Eastern Oregon water project that will benefit a company owned by his friend.
The $506,000 Echo Meadows project was unanimously approved 7-0 by the eight-member council representing Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. Oregon's other councilor, Eric Bloch, did not attend Tuesday's meeting.
The Echo Meadows project would flood agricultural land along the Umatilla River near Echo during the winter months in hopes that the water would recharge the aquifer and result in more, cooler water during the summer irrigation season.
Much of the money allocated for the project will pay for IRZ Consulting to monitor and evaluate the effects of the winter flooding. The CES of IRZ Consulting is Fred Ziari of Hermiston, a man Brogoitti described as "a friend of mine for many years."
The council's vote came despite and Aug. 7 memo in which Northwest Power Planning council staff recommended that a decision on the project be delayed.
The Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority, a group composed of state, federal and tribal fisheries experts who evaluate proposals before the council, also failed to recommend the project.
Gary James, who heads the Anadromous (ocean-going) Fish Committee of the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority, said that among the problems his group found with the Echo Meadows project was its experimental design and the fact that the land is already being flood-irrigated by farmers every spring.
"We said that for the money, we'd like them to look for a better experimental design," James said. The authority reviews proposals before the council and makes recommendations, but doesn't hold power over whether they are approved.
Proponents of the project, including council member Judi Danielson of Idaho, said the Echo Meadows project represents "a good bang for the buck" if it succeeds in increasing the amount of water available in the river during summer months.
Brogoitti said that despite his friendship with Ziari, he advocated for the project based solely on its merits.
"I want to make that very clear," Brogoitti said. "I don't believe I had a conflict of interest."
He said he wanted to be the first to disclose his relationship with Ziari in case Gov. John Kitzhaber, with whom Brogoitti has been fighting, decided to make an issue of it.
Brogoitti's fears may have been unfounded.
Tom Towslee, a spokesman for Kitzhaber, said, "It has never been our practice to comment on these projects. We'll trust whatever the council staff comes up with."
Pushing for the approval of the Echo Meadows project may be among Brogoitti's last actions on the Northwest Power Planning Board, which Congress created in 1980 to give citizens of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana more say over the power created at hydroelectric dams in the Columbia River basin and the fish and wildlife affected by those dams.
Kitzhaber appointed Brogoitti to the council in 1995, but the two locked horns last month over what Brogoitti describes as the governor's attempts to force an environmental agenda on the council.
The governor has called for Brogoitti's resignation and has named Milton-Freewater resident and hazardous substance attorney Melinda Eden as his replacement. She is scheduled to appear before the Senate Interim Committee on Rules and Executive Appointments on Sept. 4 for a confirmation hearing.
Brogoitti has refused to honor the governor's request that he resign. Brogoitti said that if the Senate confirms Eden, he will step aside.
"If the Senate in Oregon says I'm out of there, then I'm out," he said. "But I just don't feel the governor has the right to dismiss me because I disagree with him."
Frank L. "Larry" Cassidy, Jr., the chairman of the Power Planning Council, called the spat between Brogoitti and Kitzhaber "a minor distraction" that hasn't affected council business. "It's really an Oregon issue," he said.
The Northwest Power Planning Council's next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 10 and 11 in Spokane, Washington.
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