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MailTribune.com
  • Nicholson knee-deep in negotiations on water use, schools

  • The tense negotiations over settling water fights in the upper Klamath Basin and the contentious contract negotiations between the Medford School District and its teachers have one voice in common.
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  • The tense negotiations over settling water fights in the upper Klamath Basin and the contentious contract negotiations between the Medford School District and its teachers have one voice in common.
    Larry Nicholson has been in the thick of both negotiations, as a representative of Upper Klamath Basin irrigators hammering out Wednesday's agreement on dividing water there and as a member of the Medford School Board now in the "cooling off" period in contract talks.
    Which one is tougher depends on what day you ask him.
    "Today it's probably contract negotiations," Nicholson said from Klamath Falls, shortly after Gov. John Kitzhaber signed the Klamath agreement. "We had an element of success here today."
    Nicholson is a fourth-generation rancher whose family has operated a 680-acre cattle ranch in the Fort Klamath area. Through his grandmother, he also is a member of the Klamath Tribe and related to Tribal Chairman Don Gentry.
    Nicholson represented irrigator interests through a group called Fort Klamath Critical Habitat on a task force put together in June by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and others to hammer out a consensus on sharing scarce water resources in the upper basin.
    Nicholson has been driving from Medford to Klamath County at least once a week since June, helping the task force work through contentious issues that have bitterly divided irrigators, the tribe and conservationists for decades.
    "I added a different perspective to the group," he said. "Over time, we connected better to where we now can talk about the issues instead of storming out of the room."
    In Klamath County, the deal signed Wednesday was in principle and the various entities will be working on final language over the next month.
    At the school district, the district and teacher representatives have said their current proposals are close on salaries and are working on contract language.
    Both negotiations have followed similar arcs, Nicholson said.
    "If you look at the bottom line, it's all about sustainability and predictability," he said.
    Nicholson said he isn't sure whether he seeks out tense negotiations or they simply find him.
    "It's been an interesting ride, to say the least," he said.
    Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.
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