KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — About 300 protesters climbed a security fence at the headgates for the Klamath irrigation project Wednesday to give federal officers papers claiming the headgates belong to local irrigators, not the federal government.
The protesters, who included many farmers, handed the papers to officers from the Bureau of Land Management who have been guarding the headgates.
The crowd did not try to forcibly open the headgates, as has occurred four times previously to protest the shut-off of irrigation water to 90% of the 220,000 acres of the Klamath Project--a measure taken to help endangered or threatened fish.
The Wednesday action was organized by a faction calling itself FARM, which stands for Farmers Against Regulatory Madness.
Barbara Martin, a real estate agent and member of FARM, said she had uncovered documents showing ownership of property around the headgates had reverted from the federal government to local irrigation districts after costs for construction, operation and maintenance had been paid off.
"If they think they own it, let them take us to court and show us what they've got," she said.
Bureau of Reclamation spokesman David Jones said a title search by his agency shows clearly that the headgates and the land around them belong to the federal government.
Some of the protesters set up a table, where they served melons and hot dogs.
Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger showed up to keep the peace and also to show support for farmers.
Evinger said he was not interested in breaking laws but did not feel that due process had been followed in shutting off water to farmers.
He walked to the head of the crowd and said "as long as you stay here and nobody gets hurt, that's OK with me. Do not go into the headgates. That will result in personal injury and we're not going to do that."
Then Evinger said: "Fire up the barbecue, what's for dinner?"
Bill Moore, who farms 760 acres outside Merrill, said he joined the crowd that went over the fence because he's frustrated with federal mediation sessions over the Klamath Basin water dispute that have so far borne no fruit.
"I got disgusted," he said. "There isn't a critter, bug, fish or any form of life that isn't endangered somewhere. They use them to stop development, whether it's irrigation of something else.
"I've been with people trying to do this through negotiations. They've been stalemated. That's why I decided to cross the fence," he said.