Sen. Ron Wyden has introduced a U.S. Senate bill attempting to speed up a delayed land exchange between Mt. Hood Meadows resort and the U.S. Forest Service.
The land trade, which was mandated by a 2009 Congressional Act, originally stipulated for 770 acres of land at Cooper Spur, owned by Meadows, to be traded for 120 acres at Government Camp, on the south side of Mount Hood, owned by the Forest Service.
Six years later, the trade remains in legal limbo — the conflict is mired in mediation sessions between Meadows and the Forest Service.
Wyden introduced a new bill last Tuesday, Sept. 22., co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley, which attempts to put more pressure on the Forest Service to reach an agreement.
If the bill, “Mount Hood Cooper Spur Land Exchange Clarification Act,” makes it through the U.S. Congress, it would amend the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 to reflect more concrete deadlines and an updated understanding of the respective land parcels.
The bill strikes out “as soon as practical after the date of enactment” and replaces it with “no later than 60 days” as a cutoff. It also specifies the parties must “jointly select” an agreement.
Recently, the conflict has crystallized around “equalization” of the respective lands, and the parameters of a wetland conservation easement running near the Crystal Springs watershed.
In a letter to the Forest Service in May, Meadows CEO and owner Matthew Drake called the protected wetland protections laid out by the Forest Service “overly broad” and “expansive.” He also suggested the acreage of the lands be adjusted to reflect the current value of the non-federal Government Camp land, which has lowered in value over the last six years.
The Hood River County Board of Commissioners have expressed frustration over the lagging land trade over the last summer, which they reiterated at a meeting Wednesday night.
“It is amazing the Forest Service is able to do this … I’m sort of fascinated,” said County Administrator David Meriwether.
Hood River County backed the Hood River Valley Residents Committee, a local land use watchdog group, in a lawsuit against the Forest Service in July. Last month, Clackamas County joined the co-plaintiffs.
Mt. Hood Meadows remains an “involuntary plaintiff” in the case, due to its status as a Forest Service tenant, operating on a special use permit.
Meriwether described the Wyden bill as a third approach working “concurrently,” alongside all the current options the conservation groups and counties have undertaken.
“Ideally, they’d get this thing knocked out before (the bill) is adopted,” said Meriwether. “Really what we have now are mediation and the pending lawsuit and now an Act, so maybe one of them will work.”
“We’re pursuing every strategy we can to bring the land trade to completion,” said Heather Staten, executive director of HRVRC.
Staten referred to Wyden’s bill as a piece of “fix-it legislation.”
“It basically strips the Forest Service of discretion on the conservation easement at Government Camp and gives a method for appraising and equalizing the properties,” she said.
Legislators will hold a hearing on Wyden’s bill next Thursday, Oct. 8. Reps. Greg Walden and Earl Blumenauer will introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives, Staten said.