Governor cheers legislators for bi-partisan work

Hood River’s bi-partisan legislative team has been commended by Gov. Ted Kulongoski for strong leadership that could put more rural Oregonians back to work.

Last week Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, the chief sponsor of a bill to redevelop abandoned mill sites, and co-sponsor Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Mt. Hood, received a personal thank you note from Kulongoski for legislation that will help get disused mill sites back into economic circulation.

“House Bill 2691 is a vital piece of my economic development package and I applaud the work of all of the interested parties that came together to craft this legislation,” wrote Kulongoski in the April 30 letter.

His praise followed the successful efforts of Smith and Metsger to gain the approval of their peers for the legislation. Hood River County Economic Development Coordinator Bill Fashing said the passage of HB2691 streamlines the process that will allow sewer lines to be extended to both the Lower and Upper Hanel Mills and the former lumber plant in Dee.

“These properties have traditionally been zoned industrial and used for industrial purposes and, for the economic health of the county, we ought to continue to have use of those sites even though the mills are inoperable at this point,” said Fashing.

Smith decided to seek passage of HB 2691 after learning that there were more than 150 closed mill sites throughout Oregon, many of which could be easily converted for a new industrial use.

“I was proud to introduce such a landmark piece of legislation and I thank the senator for his co-sponsorship — this was truly a team effort that shows what can happen when people have the best interests of Oregonians at heart,” Smith said.

Last week, Metsger gained unanimous approval from his peers for the “Mill Bill.” In his remarks on the Senate floor, Metsger described House Bill 2691 as a “critical piece of our economic development strategy.” He said that increasing the supply of available industrial land would help attract family wage jobs to the state.

In his letter, Kulongoski told Metsger and Smith that he looked forward to signing the bill and putting Oregonians back to work.

“I have made the state’s effort to identify and prepare ‘shovel ready’ industrial lands one of the priorities of my administration. Utilizing abandoned or diminished mill sites outside of the urban growth boundary can be a boon for rural Oregon,” he wrote.

On Monday, Smith said the House had to concur with the Senate version of her bill and then it would move to the governor for his endorsement. She said an official signing ceremony is expected to take place in the near future at one of the old mill sites.

“It’s an amazing piece of legislation and I’m so thankful that everyone is on board,” Smith said.

In January, Metsger was unanimously chosen to chair the Senate Economic Development and Transportation committee. His appointment followed that of Smith in December as the chair of the House Trade and Economic Development Committee. At the start of the current legislative session, the respective District 26 and District 52 elected officials contended they were in top leadership roles to tackle tough budget challenges and bring more family wage jobs to struggling rural counties. Both Metsger and Smith believe that HB 2691 is one example of how they have been able to work in a united effort to move key pieces of legislation forward.

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