Legal fight is costly

  The Oregon Natural Resources Council hopes to raise $100,000 to defend itself against a lawsuit concerning its activities in the Klamath Basin in south-central Oregon and northern California. The group, with an annual budget of $650,000, has already spent $25,000 on defense. Farmer Marion Palmer charges that ONRC and others have interfered with his water rights from the federal Klamath Project since 1991. ONRC has filed lawsuits and administrative actions against the Bureau of Reclamation to ensure that the agency releases enough water to meet the needs of the endangered short-nosed and lost river suckers. Palmer says the group's actions were done "to deceive the general public and extract contributions ..." and have prevented him from getting his fair share of water on a timely basis. He wants $40,000 for damages and reimbursement of his legal fees. Phil Berry, an attorney representing the ONRC, characterizes the lawsuit as a SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) that has no merit. But his motion to have the case dismissed last fall was denied.

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