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Port protests possible listing

Hood River tollbridge falls under Gorge Commission scrutiny

The Port of Hood River is concerned that a move to add the Hood River tollbridge to a list of highly visible landscapes within the Scenic Area will create safety problems.

Last week, Dave Harlan, port director, told officials from the Columbia River Gorge Commission that his agency did not want to be included on the roster of Key Viewing Areas if it meant facing an added regulatory burden to overhaul the aging structure.

In July, a subcommittee of the bi-state entity made a “preliminary” recommendation to include the Hood River Bridge and The Dalles crossing on the KVA list. That same committee also determined that the Bridge of the Gods, owned by the Port of Cascade Locks, already qualified for that status since it was part of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Under the Gorge Commission’s land-use management plan, new buildings within sight of KVAs are subject to stricter design measures that include heavier screening by vegetation and limitations on colors and external buildings materials. If the Hood River Bridge was termed a KVA any work beyond regular maintenance would also be subject to the “visually subordinate” guidelines, according to Brian Litt, Gorge Commission senior planner.

Harlan pointed out to Gorge Commission representatives visiting the port’s Aug. 6 meeting that the Oregon Department of Transportation had spent months wrangling over replacement of a heavily dented metal guardrail along Interstate 84 because it was an identified KVA. He said first the Commission protested the new jersey barriers because they would be higher and block a view of the river for a 1,000 foot stretch. Then he said ODOT was asked to paint the barriers a darker color so they would be less noticeable – or even build a more attractive rock wall instead.

“Those are the things that make us uncomfortable with this proposal,” Harlan said.

He said the port was also planning to replace the existing guardrails on the bridge with higher barriers in the near future to better protect motorists during a collision. In addition, the port is getting ready to undertake the replacement of 172 metal decking panels and some support beams.

Because of past history, Harlan said many local jurisdictions had a “trust problem” with the Commission and were suspicious about the motivation behind the KVA issue and another move to regulate uses along the Columbia River.

“When you decide to rezone the river we will be very interested,” said Harlan.

Martha Bennett, Gorge Commission executive director, said in a follow-up interview that the Commission is just looking at uses along the river to correct an “oversight” in its land-use plan which does not address boat docks and other development.

“The whole idea is to develop a list of uses that are allowed on the Columbia,” said Bennett.

She said that issue gained more focus during the current study for a new Hood River bridge since there are no guidelines governing bridge replacement structures within the Scenic Area.

She said within the next couple of months, the subject will be raised in discussions with Gorge county planners, other stakeholders, and members of the public.

“From the port’s perspective we just question the need and question what’s driving this,” said Harlan. “This is a federal navigable waterway that falls under a lot of jurisdictions so most development is already subject to close scrutiny.”

The move to include the Hood River bridge as a KVA will next be addressed by the Commission’s Scenic Resource Committee on Tuesday at 2 p.m. at the White Salmon Library.

In addition to regulatory arguments, the port has registered protests that the narrow crossing would be a “highly dangerous” place for visitors to stop to view the surrounding landscape. Litt said the Commission does not condone that safety risk although the bridge qualifies as a KVA because it is heavily traveled and provides spectacular vistas for vehicle passengers.

Joyce Reinig, Hood River County’s appointed Gorge Commissioner and member of the Scenic Resources Committee, told the port board last week that she will fight against that recommendation because of the potential safety and liability problems.

She said the original intent of KVAs was to preserve viewpoints, travelways, parks and other areas where the public could walk around and safely enjoy the scenic beauty of the Gorge.

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