A bill seeking to resolve a protracted land dispute on Mount Hood found success in a Senate Committee last week, which will bring the matter to the Senate floor for a vote.
The “Mount Hood Cooper Spur Land Exchange Clarification Act,” sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
“The Mt. Hood Land Exchange will finally help protect Mount Hood for visitors and for the environment,” Wyden said in a statement.
The bill addresses disagreements over a conservation easement and proposes a more transparent appraisal process.
An identical version of the bill passed in the House during February with nearly unanimous support, but the Senate’s final decision remains to be seen, as both chambers will need to approve the legislation before it heads to President Donald Trump’s desk.
Last time a similar bill came before lawmakers, in the previous Congressional session, the House okayed it but the bill died in the Senate. Backers of the current bill hope the renewed push will find success.
Wyden is the former chair and a senior member of the committee.
The bill, H.R.699, seeks to allow commercial development by Mt. Hood Meadows ski resort on the south side of the mountain near Government Camp, while protecting land on the north slope as public forest land.
A 2009 Congressional omnibus act authorized the land exchange to allow development of 120 acres of federal land in Government Camp in exchange for protecting 770 acres of non-federal land at Cooper Spur. Congress set the exchange deadline at 16 months, but almost eight years later the deal remains incomplete.
However, the U.S. Forest Service has taken early steps to complete the change. In November, the agency released a draft Environmental Impact Statement.
The sweeping study gauges the environmental, social and economic effects of the proposed land exchange.
But policymakers backing H.R.699 argue more follow-through, via legislation, is necessary to ensure the deal goes through without further delays.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River), who was a sponsor of the House version of the bill that passed, applauded the Senate committee’s decision in a written statement obtained by the News.
“Nearly eight years ago, Congress told the Forest Service to complete this land exchange on Mount Hood, which would help protect the local water source and grow family wage jobs in the community. They still haven’t gotten it done, so we need to pass new legislation to force them to do so,” Walden said.
“Last month, the House overwhelmingly passed our bill, and I’m glad the Senate moved forward with it today. I hope the full Senate will quickly pass it so we can get it to the president’s desk and get this done—finally.”
It won’t be the first piece of legislation aimed at the Cooper Spur land swap. Walden and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Portland) introduced identical legislation in the previous Congressional session, which cleared the House but died in the Senate.
Walden said he will discuss the land trade and other issues at town hall meetings this month in Hood River and The Dalles. Times and details were not available by press time. Visit www.hoodrivernews.com for updates.