Gorge Commission views air study


News staff writer

September 16, 2006

A project aimed at studying the visibility of the Columbia River Gorge has reached the modeling stage, which should be completed by this December.

Modeling consists of computer-generated scenarios combining various data sets to address what would happen if one or more factors were changed that affect the Gorge’s air quality.

Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality and the Southwest Clean Air Agency presented the 2006 report on the project Tuesday at Cascade Locks. The Columbia River Gorge Commission listened to the update, which began as an amendment to the area’s management plan in May 2000.

The project has so far included two studies, one measuring the gradient of haze in the Gorge and the second looking at the causes of haze. The final version was released in August.

The studies found that the main contributors to summertime haze are organics and sulfate and that wintertime haze is worse than summer, with sources mainly from the east. Those include nitrates, sulfates, and organics. The entire report can be accessed at http://www.gorgeair.com.

The next step for the study is to continue modeling “what-if scenarios” to explore which ones will continue to influence Gorge air in 2018. The final step is expected to be a recommendation for a regional air quality strategy that carries out the purpose of the Scenic Area Act.

Two components that are expected to be based on the current technical study are the trend forecast of conditions expected in 2018 and an additional strategic process for the future. However, this final step may be hindered by a lack of funding for the agencies to complete work.

The project’s progress was hit with criticism from multiple sides during public comments following their presentation. Some said the study was going too slowly and not into enough detail while others questioned what the commission was doing tackling the issue in the first place.

Bobbie Miller, a resident of The Dalles and property rights advocate, felt the clean air studies were not under the commission’s purview.

“You’ve opened a big can of worms with this,” she said. “You’re trying to make us into a wilderness area and we’re not a wilderness area.”

Brent Foster, the director of Columbia Riverkeepers, also criticized the study but for not going far and fast enough.

“For the umpteenth year in a row, this report ignores that there is a problem,” he said.

Klickitat County added to the dust devil of debate a separate study it commissioned that concluded that air quality in the Gorge was actually improving, not worsening as the DEQ/SWCCA study finds. Several took issue with the presentation of this report, including the Friends of the Gorge.

“My problem is the Klickitat report was not available until today,” said Nathan Baker, staff attorney.

He stated the report was given to the media ahead of time but not to the public. The Hood River News did not receive this document.

Among the commissioners’ questions was Skamania County Representative Walt Loehrke’s query as to how the word “pristine” should be defined within the context of the study.

“The term ‘pristine’ does not apply to the Gorge because it’s not a wilderness area or a national park,” said DEQ scientist Andy Ginsburg in response.

Others pointed out they felt the study should encompass the broader issue of people’s health. This included members of two of the four Columbia River Treaty Tribes.

Clifford Casseska, of the Yakama Tribal Nation, said the damage could be seen in the indigenous petroglyphs of the area and if there is damage to rock then there is damage to human health. Alan Cox, of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, cautioned the commission that while health is important, we should consider a level approach to the visibility project.

“Clean air in the Columbia River impacts everything,” he said. “I encourage the Commission about the importance of balance of affecting natural resources; keeping a balance between that and economic development.”

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