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Gorge Commission forms air quality group

By NANCY LEMONS

The Dalles Chronicle

A bi-state advisory committee is being formed to develop a Gorge air quality strategy, which could lead to changes in regional air quality programs.

In May 2000, the Columbia River Gorge Commission approved an air quality amendment to the National Scenic Area Management Plan, calling for continued monitoring and analysis of pollution and visibility in the Gorge, as well as analysis of emissions data to identify sources inside and outside the Gorge.

The commission is relying on the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Washington Department of Ecology and the Southwest Clean Air Agency to develop the air quality strategy.

These three agencies chose to do so through an advisory committee. The committee selection is scheduled to begin in the next few months and will encompass diverse interests — community, business and resource protection leaders — from both inside and outside the Gorge. Representatives from each of the six Gorge counties and regional tribes are also being invited to the table.

Two “citizen at large” positions for the advisory committee are available in both Oregon and Washington. Those interested in serving should contact any of the three air quality agencies. Applications must be received by no later than June 15.

For more information, visit www.gorgeair.org

The committee is expected to begin meeting later this summer.

“The air quality strategy will take several years to develop, and we are in the early stages of the project,” said Annette Liebe, manager of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s air quality planning program.

“Over time, the committee will evaluate the results of air quality studies and work with the public, tribes, and stakeholder groups to develop a fair and balanced strategy for the Scenic Area.”

Some of the technical work has already begun, according to Liebe. Primary concerns expressed by economic development leaders and residents in relation to Gorge air quality involved “geographic fairness” in identifying sources of air emissions in and outside the Gorge and unfairly burdening local gorge communities while allowing air quality impacts outside the scenic area to continue.

Dave Harlan, executive director of the Port of Hood River, who is being supported as a candidate for the advisory committee by Port of The Dalles, said he hopes to be a part of the process and said he will work to see that current air quality programs are evaluated as part of it.

He believes these programs, such as the Regional Haze Program, designed to improve air quality in Class I areas (Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams), will naturally lead to improvements in the Gorge.

“That (existing programs) should be the vehicle for improving air quality in the Gorge,” said Harlan, who says he fears businesses are wary of moving into an area where air quality could add up to being a costly issue for them.

Dana Peck, executive director for Klickitat County Economic Development, who is also a candidate for the committee, said he thinks the advisory process will be a challenge with such a large group, but he believes it will work out.

However, he said his only concern regarding the process is that people may become impatient in waiting for the scientific data and may push for interim regulations that may not be necessary.

“We have to understand the problem before we can work on a solution,” he said.

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