Wyden beckons raw comment

August 20, 2005

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., openly admired the scenic beauty of the Gorge during a brief stop at the waterfront on Thursday.

“This corner of the world is the definition of paradise,” he told local dignitaries while standing on the footbridge over the Hood River.

Hood River Port President Sherry Bohn thanked him for helping the port obtain $900,000 for a vehicle crossing over the waterway. The federal transportation dollars will be used for engineering and design work related to that project, which could be completed by late next year or early 2007.

Currently, only pedestrians can get across the river without using Interstate 84 exits 63 and 64. The Oregon Department of Transportation has identified traffic backups along that stretch of freeway as a public safety concern.

However, like most issues regarding the waterfront, the project is not without dissension. Resident Brian Carlstrom took the floor at Wyden’s town hall meeting that same afternoon to air his concerns. He believed the public had not been given enough opportunities to air comments about the bridge. He also felt that it could unsafely mix vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

“Turning this path into a highway will change the paradise you talked about into a dangerous roadway,” said Carlstrom.

A no less controversial subject was the proposed tribal gambling casino in Cascade Locks. A contingent of citizens from the rural community praised the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs plan because of the economic benefits it would bring. Wyden was also cautioned by conservationists to be careful about supporting the state’s first off-reservation casino because of the precedent it would set.

And that was exactly the way that Wyden wanted his yearly meeting in Hood River County to go. He was fulfilling a campaign promise to host one gathering each year in all 36 of Oregon’s counties and straight talk was what he was after.

“What this is all about is just raw undiluted and unfiltered democracy that is come one come all,” he said, encouraging as many questions as 90 minutes could permit from his audience at the county courthouse.

Wyden fielded requests to reveal his views on a wide range of topics. Topics of interest included national energy policies, the recent compromise between Mt. Hood Meadows and the Hood River Valley Residents Committee (HRVRC) over Mt. Hood development, and spiraling health care costs. He was even asked to give his opinion of Judge John Roberts as a potential U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

The legislator billed the latest energy bill as a “total and abysmal” failure to resolve the United States dependency upon foreign oil. He was the lone holdout vote on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources against the policy. Wyden said a “terror tax” was the best way to describe what happens when consumers pay money at the gasoline pump that finds its way back to foreign ports and, sometimes, the wrong hands.

He congratulated members of the HRVRC and Meadows for 14 months of successful mediation that will protect the north face of Mt. Hood from development. However, Wyden said the proposal that would allow Meadows construction of some housing units near Government Camp in exchange for giving up development rights on its Cooper Spur holdings needs careful consideration. The federal official agrees with U.S. Reps. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., that any federal policy concerning Mount Hood needs to factor in a variety of interests.

Wyden urged those in attendance to check out the Web site www.citizenhealthcare.gov to learn more about his sweeping new legislation for health care reform.

He admitted that a personal meeting with Judge Roberts went well but that his mind is not yet made up on the nominee of President George W. Bush.

“I thought he (Roberts) was extremely intelligent, candid and charming,” said Wyden, who is concerned about any potential high court ruling that overturns Oregon’s assisted suicide law.

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