The Columbia River Gorge Commission will ask the Legislatures of Oregon and Washington for a budget increase in order to hire two new staffers — and finish an overdue management plan.
This fall, the commission requested an extra $250,000 from each state for the 2017-2019 biennium. The money would allow the bi-state agency to hire a tribal liaison and a technical planner, both of whom would help finish the mandatory plan.
Krystyna Wolniakowski, Gorge Commission executive director, described the budget request as a “modest increase,” in order to dive into work on that overarching strategy.
“It would make a world of difference for us in being able to do a thorough job,” Wolniakowski said.
The 13-member Gorge Commission oversees land use and development policy in the six-county Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area. Their charge: preserving natural resources while encouraging economic growth in the small cities lining the Gorge.
The agency’s current budget is about $900,000.
Every 10 years, the commission is required by Congress to update the sweeping management plan, which covers everything from land use and resource protection to development and partnerships with the U.S. Forest Service and four Columbia River treaty tribes.
Budget constraints have helped put the review two years past deadline.
“Part of the delay was because our staff was cut several years ago,” Wolniakowski explained in a presentation to the Hood River County Board of Commissioners last Monday.
Since 2004, when the commission last revised a portion of the document, its staff has shrunk from 10 to six.
New hires could shake up the formula, equipping the commission to update the plan by summer of 2019.
The new technical planner would help develop the commission’s “Vital Signs” program. The program strives to endeavors to measure and track the conditions of the scenic, natural, economic, cultural, and recreation resources in the Scenic Area.
Wolniakowski compared it to “our blood pressure,” or monitoring the overall health of the Gorge.
The tribal liaison position would also be a planner, but one who works with the four treaty tribes to engage those communities, a more dedicated avenue of outreach.
OneGorge, a regional public-private advocacy group, sent a letter to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee supporting the Gorge Commission’s budget ask.
“A $500,000 increase over last biennium’s budget … would allow the commission to more effectively engage its constituents in a public process that would address the economic and environmental issues now facing our communities,” the Oct. 26 letter said.
Signatures on the letter included local leaders such as Port of Hood River Executive Director Michael McElwee, Stevenson Mayor Frank Cox, and Cascade Locks City Administrator Gordon Zimmerman.
“I feel like we’ve done an enormous amount of outreach,” Wolniakowski said. For instance, she’s been visiting county commissions and other stakeholder meetings in person to spread the word about the management plan.
Starting in November, the commission will take public input on the plan review, and hear which issues need to be addressed. Early meetings with partner agencies begin in December.
Public scoping meetings will be held during January and February in the west, central, and east parts of the Scenic Area. Staff will also lead workshops with the public.
Next June, the commission will pool together what they’ve learned, work with the Forest Service, and start crafting goals and policy proposals. The final step in revising the management plan is the commission’s final approval, expected in June 2019.
To submit comments on the plan review, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out a form at www.gorgecommission.org. The public can provide oral comments at commission meetings or workshops.
The next meeting is Dec. 13, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Best Western Plus Hood River Inn.