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Grain Producers Vote Support for Nez Perce Settlement

by Patricia R. McCoy
Capital Press, November 26, 2004

BOISE -- The Idaho Grain Producers Association supports the Nez Perce Settlement, an agreement settling tribal water rights claims to the Snake River.

Approval of the resolution to support ended the association’s annual convention here Nov. 15-18, but not before a lengthy debate.

“I oppose this resolution. There are a lot of unanswered questions about what the agreement will do. I appreciate the concerns that brought this subject before us, but I can’t support it for my county,” said Eric Hammestrom, a Lewis County grower.

“I realize there are people in this room with a different perspective, in part because they live close to the Nez Perce Reservation. They’ll be affected more by the settlement than I will. There are risks in this. However, there’s a greater risk facing the entire state. Without the tribal settlement we could end up in court and lose more there. This agreement is essential to all Idaho agriculture,” said Dan Mader, a North Idaho grower and former state senator.

The federal government should mitigate any lost county property tax revenues that might result from the agreement, he said.

Mader and other supporters of the resolution said the Nez Perce Settlement was negotiated over a five-year period, under direct orders of the Snake River Basin Adjudication Court. Federal, state and tribal officials working on it have a March 31, 2005, deadline to develop the agreement.

The IGPA debate took place Nov. 17. Two days later, on Nov. 19 and 20, the Nez Perce Settlement passed both houses of Congress. It is currently on the desk of President Bush, awaiting the approval he is expected to give.

The settlement, a major step in the ongoing SRBA, must also be voted on by the tribe, and the Idaho State Legislature after it convenes next Jan. 10. Gov. Dirk Kempthorne this week announced he is preparing a package of legislation to implement the agreement.

According to a fact sheet available from the state of Idaho, the agreement sets the tribe’s on-reservation reserved water right at 50,000 acre feet a year, with a priority date of 1855. It also established a $50 million multiple-use water and fisheries resources trust fund, provides $23 million to design and construct a water supply and sewer system on the reservation, transfers management authority of Kooskia National Fish Hatchery to the tribe, and transfers a portion of Bureau of Land Management-administered land within the reservation valued at $7 million to the tribe.

The next component of the settlement calls for a Salmon-Clearwater Habitat Management and Restoration Initiative.

That initiative establishes instream flows for selected streams of importance to the tribe. Those flows will be held by the Idaho Water Resources Board. The state is required to administer a cooperative agreement under the Endangered Species Act. A fund will be established for habitat improvement projects.

The final component calls on the SRBA court to decree minimum flows to the Idaho Water Resources Board. The state is to extend its agreement for the term of the settlement to continue allowing the Bureau of Reclamation to lease up to 427,000 acre feet of water from Idaho water banks for flow augmentation for threatened and endangered fish. BuRec will also be allowed to acquire up to 60,000 acre feet of consumptive natural flow water rights from the Snake River, with compensation to local communities for impacts caused by this acquisition, the fact sheet said.

Patricia R. McCoy, Capital Press Staff Writer
Grain Producers Vote Support for Nez Perce Settlement
Capital Press, November 26, 2004

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