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Gorge Commission 'fine-tunes' rules

Staffers from the Columbia River Gorge Commission and U.S. Forest Service are sorting through hundreds of suggestions intended to "fine-tune" the Scenic Area's land-use management plan.

According to Keith Frederickson, Commission community outreach coordinator, more than 800 recommendations were recorded on flip charts or submitted in writing at a series of public meetings held during May and June in each of the six Gorge counties. Another 620 comments were compiled from letters, e-mails, response forms and earlier plan review forums.

"We received a wide range of comments," said Martha Bennett, Commission executive director. "These comments are extremely valuable in defining the policy questions for plan review."

These remarks have been divided into two tables and the original documents are available for public viewing from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Gorge Commission office, 288 Jewett Blvd., in White Salmon. Their condensed version (lengthy suggestions were paraphrased) can also be viewed on the bi-state entity's website at www.gorgecommission.org.

Although the Commission did not designate whether comments were submitted by Gorge residents or from outside the Scenic Area, Table 1 reflects in which county meeting the remark, which is individually numbered, was recorded. Table 2 includes numbered comments from other sources, which are identified by a special code.

Bennett said several special interests groups, including Friends of the Columbia Gorge and Gorge Reality, submitted mass mailings by their respective membership. The contents of these responses are only recorded once, and then followed by a ranking to show the type of response form (letters, e-mails or meetings), and the individualized numbers of submitted comments.

"We aren't going to be able to go back so we just have to go forward from here and recognize that not everyone involved sees eye-to-eye and we're trying to work toward good things, not bad things," said Bennett.

The Scenic Area Act, created by Congress in 1986, requires the Commission to undertake a plan review every 10 years to determine how effectively its management plan is working to achieve two goals for the 293,000 acres of Scenic Area -- protection of resources and promotion of economic development in urban areas. The current plan, adopted in October of 1991, placed 90 percent of the Gorge under special resource protection regulations. In that plan the land mass was divided, as directed by the federal legislation, into three classifications:

The majority of the Scenic Area, 149,004 acres, is designated as a General Management Area (GMA), which primarily includes the grazing lands of the eastern Gorge, orchard and other agricultural properties and the Columbia River. It also contains some sectors of existing residential and commercial development.

The Special Management Area (SMA) title was given to 115,100 acres of land identified for strict regulation because of special scenic qualities, significant natural resources, or important archaeological and historic sites.

The 13 Urban Areas, made up of 28,511 acres, are exempt from the regulations of the Scenic Act. These areas are the cities, town and communities which have already been established as residential, commercial or industrial centers.

Staffers from the Commission and Forest Service are now working to categorize the submitted topics to identify major issues that stakeholders believe need to be addressed. That information, along with written presentations by the planning staffs of each of the six Gorge counties, will be deliberated by the Commission at its Sept. 11 meeting in The Dalles. Public testimony on the proposed subject areas will also be taken at the meeting.

Frederickson said after gathering additional comments from the public, tribal governments, the six Gorge counties and other stakeholders, the Commission will create a prioritized list of topics, along with a schedule and work plan, for the official review of development regulations enacted in the nation's first Scenic Area.

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