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House passes Mt. Hood land exchange bill

A bill aiming to speed up a long-stalled land exchange between the U.S. Forest Service and Mt. Hood Meadows ski resort has cleared the House.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed “Mount Hood Cooper Spur Land Exchange Clarification Act,” authored by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Portland), with a nearly unanimous vote: 401-2.

Walden’s bill would allow commercial development by Meadows on 107 acres on the south side of the mountain near Government Camp, while protecting 770 acres on Cooper Spur, the northeast slope, as public forest land.

LAND TRADE

A long planned land trade would allow Meadows to swap its acreage at Cooper Spur to the Forest Service in exchange for land near Government Camp. The U.S. Senate and House have passed similar legislation asking USFS to speed up the trade.

In April, the Senate passed a similar bill, spearheaded by Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, which passed as part of a broader energy and resources bill. The language in that greater bill will be singled out and reintroduced to the senate for the chamber to reach consensus before it moves forward.

Lawmakers have argued the Meadows-USFS land trade will protect the Crystal Springs Watershed on Cooper Spur (which sources drinking water for parts of Hood River and The Dalles) and grow local jobs through Meadows’ development.

In 2009, legislators set the deadline for the exchange at 16 months — but six years later, the trade remains in stasis.

“This land exchange is critical for protecting Crystal Springs, the water source for the City of Hood River and the upper Hood River Valley, and would allow for economic development and family wage jobs in the area,” Walden said in a statement. “The communities around Mount Hood have waited long enough — it’s time for the Forest Service to finish the job.”

According to a news release from Walden’s office, H.R. 3826 restates Congress’ intent that the Forest Service should move quickly to complete the exchange, addresses disagreements over a conservation easement, and allows for a “more transparent (land) appraisal process.”

The bill requires the exchange to be done within 120 days of enactment, according to text of the bill listed at www.gov.track.us.

“Today’s action in the House brings us one step closer to timely completion of the exchange and further cements Congressional direction to get it done,” Blumenauer said in the news release.

Matthew Drake, CEO of Mt. Hood Meadows, thanked lawmakers and environmental partners involved in the exchange process and new bill.

“We are extremely thankful to Senator Wyden and Congressmen Walden and Blumenauer for working together in a bipartisan way to do what Congress previously directed when it passed the original 2009 Mt. Hood Legacy Act,” Drake said in a statement.



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