Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
MOST seats were filled at Hood River Valley Adult Center, where staffers passed the microphone for citizens to ask questions of Sen. Wyden. Mayor Paul Blackburn introduced Wyden. The center’s new director, Suzanne VanOrman, facilitated the Q-and-A, in the room also used for community meals, Bingo nights, and other gatherings.
As of Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Sen. Ron Wyden joked at Saturday’s town hall meeting that “there’s no script, no teleprompters” in his town halls. The Hood River town hall, his 734th, was a wide-ranging forum attended by about 75 people. Wyden discussed trade, education, infrastructure, Medicare reform, foreign policy, oil train transport and many other issues, but when it came to stalled land swap between Mt. Hood Meadows and US Forest Service, Wyden was clearly working without a script.
Wyden, when asked by citizens about the impasse, was visibly surprised and angry, and leveled criticism at USFS for holding up the land trade that was approved after considerable negotiation and legal challenges six years ago.
He turned to his legislative aid, Mary Guitteau.
“We’re trying to get this done. This has become one of the longest running battles,” she said. In the exchange, the 2009 Act called for 770 acres at Cooper Spur, owned by Mt. Hood Meadows, to be traded for 120 acres at Government Camp owned by the Forest Service.
“The message was sent six years ago,” Wyden said. “It’s called a bill. It is a law — passed in 2009.”
USFS was contacted Friday morning but did not respond by press time.
When asked by Wyden, Guitteau said the holdup seems be over wetlands issues.
Wyden responded, “That doesn’t pass the smell test. I knew they had been dragging their feet but I was not aware of this. It’s almost an unprecedented lack of responsiveness,” Wyden said.
“The Forest Service doesn’t respond,” Wyden said. “We’re going to stay on this until it changes.”
In a May 25 letter to members, Hood River Valley Residents Committee president Polly Wood wrote, “HRVRC has been working for a solution for over a decade and we have one: a land trade that conservation groups, recreation clubs, local residents, the public, Hood River County, Mt. Hood Meadows and our Congressional delegation whole-heartedly support. All these parties support the land trade because it a great solution allowing Mt. Hood Meadows to develop in an area that is appropriate and zoned for development while bringing 770 acres of beautiful forest land in the Crystal Springs watershed into public ownership. We are extremely disappointed in the Forest Service’s failure to make reasonable progress and negotiate this trade in good faith. The Forest Service is supposed to be a public agency working for, rather than against, a clear public benefit.”
The letter was cosigned by board member Michael McCarthy and HRVRC executive director Heather Staten, who noted that the issue comes down to three issues, including a conservation easement on 8 acres of wetlands on the USFS Government Camp properties and the need for the exchange to go through NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act), which is a review of the environmental impacts of the trade. This allows citizens and policy makers to get environmental information on the trade properties before it is complete.
“The conservation groups have already vetted the proposal extensively and NEPA would, in our view, focus on the future management of the North side of Mt. Hood,” Staten said.
Third, the property values need to be equalized, according to Staten. The Cooper Spur property is much larger but the Government Camp property has much more development potential because of its zoning. The idea was that the properties would have similar values. An appraisal will be done on both the properties and some equalization may be necessary.
“One effect of the Forest Service 5 year delay in completing the deal is that the trees on the Cooper Spur property have grown — the timber cruises are stale and will need to be redone. Much of the Cooper Spur land value is in its timber — so more timber and higher timber prices than in 2009 make that property worth more and create a disparity between the two trade properties.
“By taking so long to complete the trade, the Forest Service has really worked against the public benefit as we are likely to receive less land than the 770 acres envisioned by the Act due to increases in land values as USFS delays,” Staten said.