As of Tuesday, November 24, 2015
A bill launched by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden to speed up a long-delayed land exchange between Mt. Hood Meadows resort and the U.S. Forest Service has moved forward one key step — the piece of legislation found Senate Committee approval last week.
The “Mount Hood Cooper Spur Land Exchange Clarification Act” cleared the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, Nov. 19.
If the bill makes it through the full Senate and House, it would allow development by Meadows on 107 acres on the south side of the mountain near Government Camp, while protecting 770 acres on the northeast slope.
The land trade, congressionally mandated six years ago, has remained in limbo.
To put more pressure on the parties to reach an agreement, Wyden and co-sponsor Sen. Jeff Merkley launched the bill in September. Specifically, the bill would amend the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 to reflect more concrete deadlines and an updated understanding of the respective land parcels.
“Enough is enough. It is long past time to complete the Mount Hood land exchange to ensure the protection of the pristine lands on the northeast side of the mountain and open the door for responsible development on the south side,” Wyden said in a statement.
“This bill will help preserve and promote one of Oregon’s great treasures, Mount Hood,” Merkley said. “I’m pleased to see it move forward.”
Wyden’s bill is the third strategy taken by proponents of expediting the land trade.
A local land use advocacy group, Hood River Valley Residents Committee, filed a lawsuit in July against the U.S. Forest Service in hopes of accelerating the trade, and gained the support of the Hood River County and Clackamas County boards of commissioners. The Forest Service filed a motion to dismiss in October, arguing the original deadline of the trade was not legally enforceable, to which HRVRC filed a counter motion.
Meadows and the Forest Service have also been engaging in face-to-face mediation sessions, directed by former Oregon Supreme Court Justice Sue Leeson, to hammer out a wetlands conservation easement at Government Camp. The sides issued a joint agreement on the easement terms in October, but have not reached consensus on the respective land values or a timeline for completion of the trade.
HRVRC Executive Director Heather Staten said the group looks at Wyden and Merkley’s recent legislation and the lawsuit against USFS as a “belt and suspenders” approach to getting the trade done.
“We figure that by aggressively pursuing both, there is a better chance that at least one of them is successful,” Staten said.
If both the House and Senate pass the companion bills, they will go to a conference committee to work out any differences in the bills, and then back to the respective chambers for second vote. Staten said for the bill to pass this session, it would likely be attached to another piece of legislation, such as a spending bill.