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'Takings' class-action suit could lead to significant payout

More than 1,500 claims covering 3,523 parcels and more than 160,000 acres on Klamath Project land are now under review by the United States as part of the class-action lawsuit surrounding the “Takings” case.

The case stems from the shutoff of irrigation water to Klamath Project property owners or lessees by the Bureau of Reclamation in 2001. The trial’s closing arguments adjourned May 9, roughly three months following a trial that lasted more than a week at the Federal Court of Claims in Washington, D.C.

“That last week, we had a lot of people coming into the office, asking for help or wanting to make sure they had it (Notice of Appearance form) filled out right,” said local water attorney Bill Ganong, special counsel to the case.

“The turnout demonstrates that a lot of people were hurt and that a lot of land did not get irrigated. If we prevail and if the United States has to pay on a per-acre basis, it’s going to be a significant amount of money.”

Ganong said while technically the claims submitted represent some 178,958 acres of land, that number represents some duplicated claims. For example, duplication could be that of two individuals — a land owner and a new lessee — claiming the same parcel of land.

Both individuals in such a scenario will be considered for reimbursement from the United States in the event the plaintiff prevails, Ganong said, though the outcome is in the court’s jurisdiction.

“The next step is the United States is now reviewing the Notices of Appearances (claims) that were filed,” Ganong said.

Ganong said the United States can object to claims, for example, if an individual or partnership that owned land in the project in 2001 that is now owned by another party.

“The U.S. will want an explanation of why you think you’re entitled to make that claim,” Ganong said.

“There will be a process during June to identify questions that the United States may have from some of the people, and to try and resolve those. The United States isn’t saying they’re not entitled,” Ganong said. “They’re just saying, ‘We need some documentation or evidence to demonstrate they’re entitled.’ ”

The process to resolve any and all issues the U.S. may have with claims could be completed by June 28, Ganong said.

Many who joined the class action lawsuit are couples, partnerships, corporations and farming entities affected by the water shutoffs, Ganong said.

“Nearly all of the commercial farms joined,” Ganong added.

Others who joined the lawsuit are relatives of those who owned or leased land in the Klamath Project at the time of the water shutoffs and who are now deceased.

Ganong estimated that if the case prevails, the return could be between $140 to $175 per acre, reaching at least the anticipated $28 million mark or more.

A decision is anticipated sometime this year, Ganong said.

The case, which is consolidated, is Lonny E. Baley, et al v. United States and Pacific Federation of Fisherman’s Association, and includes John Anderson Farms v. United States.

— Reach reporter Holly Dillemuth at hdillemuth@heraldandnews.com.