Yakama Leader Files Lawsuit
by Associated Press
YAKIMA, Wash. -- More than a year and a half after a Yakama tribal leader filed a lawsuit against the Bonneville Power Administration over the transmission lines running through his Columbia River Gorge property, Leo Aleck is still waiting for a new lease and compensation.
The lease on the transmission lines running through his property, about 10 miles east of The Dalles, Ore., expired in May 2003. Aleck is not alone in its issues with the BPA. Twenty-two other tribal landowners along the Columbia River also have power lines running through their properties without lease agreements.
Aleck's mother, Edna Welch Alex, was given a single payment of only $170 a half century ago for the 50-year lease. She thought she'd get that amount each year, he said. Aleck has been leading the fight to get landowners worthwhile lease agreements, but negotiations are going nowhere, said Aleck's attorney, Tom Nelson of Portland.
Based on figures the BPA used to pay Umatilla tribal landowners for leases - roughly $34 a foot - Nelson said leases should total about $4 million for all Yakama property owners involved. But the BPA is offering only about $500,000 to the tribal property owners, he said.
A phone call to the BPA wasn't immediately returned Thursday.
Fed up, Aleck now says he just wants the BPA off his property to make way for a new enterprise: a wind farm. But Aleck's request was denied recently in federal District Court in Portland.
"It's too bad that it can't be resolved in a way that's fair to the family," said wind farm developer Bruce Morley with Wind River Power in White Salmon. Morley said he would like to develop a wind farm in that area, a project that would mean money for tribal land-owners.
"The economic worth of the property has changed dramatically since the new push for green-power development," he said. "It's almost like finding oil on your property."
While Nelson prepares to appeal the court decision, Aleck is waiting to see if a federal judge will act on his claim seeking damages from the time the leases had expired. A decision is expected sometime in January, said Nelson, who also is working on similar trespass cases on the Nez Perce Reservation in northern Idaho.
"This is a war, not a battle," Nelson said. "These issues have been ignored by the BPA and other trespassing utilities for a long time."
Related Sites: Information from Yakima Herald-Republic, www.yakima-herald.com
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