By BRIAN BAINNSON
and JURGEN HESS
Special to the News
Will just one more building ruin the view from Rowena or Cape Horn? Maybe, maybe not. Will five? Will 10? At what point are the views changed so much we lose the Gorge landscapes we all love? When is the landscape bucket full? This incremental change, called “cumulative effect,” currently is not considered when developments are reviewed.
A group of landscape architects are assisting the Gorge Commission and Forest Service with scenic issues, such as cumulative effect, during Management Plan Review. The American Society of Landscape Architects Oregon Chapter, University of Oregon Landscape Architecture Department, Columbia Gorge Institute, and private practice landscape architects make up this group. We are assessing proposed Plan changes and recommending alternatives.
While the Plan has worked relatively well, monitoring reports indicate problems. Problems range from development compliance, no cumulative effect analysis and inadequate highway scenic design standards. Right now, the Plan does not allow denying a project based on scenic protection. We strongly feel this provision needs to be removed. At times, mitigation measures just will not result in a project meeting scenic standards. In those cases, the only option should be to deny the development.
Our group recognizes that cumulative impact assessment, while mandated by the Scenic Area Act, is difficult to determine. However, some areas, such as Underwood Mountain and Dodson-Warrendale, are already at or over the scenic threshold. We are developing a landscape analysis using computer simulation to define cumulative impact.
Additionally, a Commission staff proposal would eliminate the requirement to “minimize visibility” of projects. This will only exacerbate the problem. Rather than eliminating the “minimize visibility” requirement, new protection measures are needed. Measures like project cumulative effects analysis, a development cap on areas already at the scenic threshold, and using natural topography screening when possible.
And yet another proposal would relax road project standards further impacting scenery of this beautiful Columbia Gorge. We recommend adopting design guidelines that require any road project fit the natural and cultural landscape, while meeting safety standards.
Key viewing areas (KVA) are an important analysis tool in determining a project’s impact. Planners assess building location requirements based on views from KVA travel routes. Proposals to eliminate some KVAs based on low route usage will result in landscape impacts. As a National Scenic Area, the number of people using a travel route shouldn’t be the criteria. We feel rather than eliminating KVAs, additions should be considered. Recommended KVA additions include: The Dalles Mountain Road, Highway 197 and Corbett Hill Road.
Fire hazard reduction, such as thinning around houses, could result in increasing scenic impact. While thinning certainly is needed, removing trees around buildings in sensitive landscapes should be mitigated by painting structures to blend into the landscape.
Our group will continue to work with the Gorge Commission and Forest Service in a spirit of cooperation. Our recommendations were presented to the Gorge Commission Scenic Resource Committee and can be viewed at the Commission website:
Brian Bainnson, American Society of Landscape Architects, Oregon Chapter, and Jurgen A. Hess, Columbia Gorge Institute, are part of the Landscape Architects Group.