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Tribal group argues against PGE's eminent domain claim for contested land at the falls

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: THE CONFEDERATED TRIBES OF THE GRAND RONDE - The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde first erected the fishing platform at Willamette Falls in 2018. The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde would like to be considered a defendant in a federal court action filed by Portland General Electric to condemn the contested land around Willamette Falls.

The Grand Ronde filed a motion to intervene in the case May 19, where they asserted their cultural and historic interests in the area — which includes the spot where they built a ceremonial fishing platform in 2018. PGE owns land on the West Linn side of the falls and operates the Sullivan Hydroelectric Plant there.

The Grand Ronde's filing claims that PGE's condemnation of the land could interfere with the tribal group's harvesting of salmon, steelhead and lamprey, operation of the fishing platform and use of the tribes' own property at the falls, the former Blue Heron Paper Mill site.

"PGE's lawsuit is a massive overreach based on false and misguided concerns. If PGE succeeds, not only will it threaten the Tribe's ceremonial fishery, it will transfer ownership of Oregon's iconic Willamette Falls from the state of Oregon, and all of Oregon's citizens, to a private, for-profit corporation," Grand Ronde Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle Kennedy stated in a press release. "Their attack on the Tribe's ceremonial fishery comes despite the fact that CTGR (Grand Ronde) never crosses into PGE's property when fishing and harvesting at Willamette Falls and PGE's past approval of our safety plan. There are more appropriate channels to resolve these issues."

When PGE filed its eminent domain claim for the land beside the falls in April, other regional tribes, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, Tribal Council for Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, voiced support for the action.

Some of the tribes also called out Grand Ronde for ceasing to cooperate with other tribal groups.

Grand Ronde's filing details the tribe's recent history of fishing at the falls and PGE's initial agreement with those practices.

"Grand Ronde contacted PGE to advise that Tribal members would be fishing at the Falls (after the state granted the tribes a seasonal fishing license in 2016)," the filing stated. "PGE requested a notification protocol and safety plan, which Grand Ronde provided and PGE accepted."

According to Grand Ronde's motion, PGE was amenable to the tribes' construction of a fishing platform until June 2018 when "PGE notified Grand Ronde that it was putting a 'pause' on those discussions due to objections from two Oregon tribes with whom PGE shares business interests."

Grand Ronde argues PGE's condemnation of the land could impact not only the tribes' fishing practices, but the use of the land they own on the other side of the river.

"The legal description for condemnation is vague and is not delineated by reference to any bearings or distance in relation to the Blue Heron Property, therefore the extent to which Grand Ronde's property interests may be impacted by this action is not yet clear," the motion to intervene stated.

The court will decide whether to allow Grand Ronde to enter the case as an intervenor-defendant.

PGE declined to comment on the tribes' motion.

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