The Columbia River Gorge Commission spoke out on Tuesday against tribal plans to change the legal status of 160 acres of Scenic Area property near Hood River.
If given "sovereign nation" protection that land will be exempt from regulation and could be used to support a gambling casino on the existing 40-acre trust site.
"It is profoundly demoralizing to think that 200 acres directly to my east may be completely removed from the same regulations that I and thousands of other Gorge landowners must comply with," said North Cheatham, who resides next to the new property purchased earlier this year by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.
At its Aug. 14 meeting, the Gorge Commission also gave the nod for Oregon and Washington air regulatory agencies to start air studies that are intended to identify and clean up any existing pollution problems in the scenic corridor.
"There's a lot of emotion over air quality but what we need is some good science," said Joyce Reinig, Hood River's representative on the Gorge Commission.
The two actions were given unanimous support after the Commission heard lengthy testimony on both sides of each issue. Because it is mandated by Congress to protect the resources of the nation's first Scenic Area, the bi-state agency felt it had a strong role in both issues.
The Gorge Commission directed Martha Bennett, executive director, to send a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs opposing the tribal request to transfer Scenic Area land east of Hood River from "fee" (open market) to trust status. The Commission declined to hear discussion or take a stand on the proposed casino because it might have to hear the appeal from a county decision on the project at some point in the future. It felt that a bad precedent would be set for other treaty tribes if federally protected property could be converted for unrestricted use. In addition, the bi-state entity said that, by law, federal decisions affecting the Scenic Area must be reviewed by the U.S. Forest Service to determine their consistency with the Act. They believe that review must then be signed off by the Secretary of Agriculture and that the Secretary of Interior, who makes the final review for trust applications, does not have the authority to change the status of the tribal land until all these hurdles have been cleared.
In other action, the Commission nixed a proposal by Friends of the Columbia Gorge and several other environmental groups to put temporary air standards in place, at least during the first 18-24 month phase of air studies. Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality, the Washington Department of Ecology and the Southwest Washington Clean Air Agency, which will oversee the five-to-seven year effort, said it would be "premature" to take that action. The agencies reasoned that there is no technical base in place to determine the origin of current emissions or sufficient information to determine the future benefits of at least eight new pollution reduction measures that are expected to dramatically clean up air across the nation by 2010.
However, a 32-member advisory group, made of stakeholders from industry, economic development and environmental groups, and local governments can use a consensus process to recommend short-term strategies for the Gorge at any time during the course of the study if these are deemed necessary.