Oregon Gov. Kate Brown visited Cascade Locks and Hood River Friday in her second official trip in this county since the Eagle Creek fire broke out a month ago.
At a morning listening session at Marine Park Pavilion in Cascade Locks, Brown assembled a panel of state staff and listened to concerns from business representatives whose companies took an economic blow from the fire.
“The Gorge feeds my soul,” Brown said. “We want to make sure it’s not just a great place to play, but a great place to work as well.”
The fire, still under half-contained, is burning 48,831 acres in the west Gorge as of Tuesday — roughly a month since the blaze erupted at a canyon near Eagle Creek Trail, just southwest of Cascade Locks, on Sept 2.
Extended highway closures and a fog-like smoke caused by the blaze hampered businesses throughout the region.
At Friday’s session, Brown announced the creation of a “recovery council” that will tie together Gorge elected leaders and the governor’s staff. Rep. Mark Johnson (R-Hood River) will chair the panel.
“The mandate of the council will be twofold,” Brown said. “Number one: assess the economic damage that’s been done and prioritize the needs. And number two: identify and deploy state support in a timely, coordinated manner.”
The group will keep her informed of what’s happening on the ground, Brown explained. As for state employees, their job is to “cut red tape.”
A state team arrived in Cascade Locks in mid-September, shortly after level three evacuation orders were lifted, and brought unemployment services and other options via the Oregon Employment Department.
At least a hundred people turned out for the Friday listening session, a follow-up to Brown’s previous Gorge visit. Elected leaders, including Johnson, Sen. Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River), Cascade Locks Mayor Tom Cramblett, and Port of Cascade Locks President Jess Groves, spoke about recovery efforts at the event.
Johnson said he expects Gorge residents will start measuring time prior to and post- Eagle Creek Fire.
“The question’s going to be: what will the Gorge become post-Eagle Creek? And that’s what (we’re here for) today,” Johnson said.
Business representatives from Cascade Locks, east Multnomah County, and The Dalles, told Brown the various ways the fire jarred their economic stability.
“We had to close our doors for two weeks in what should have been the busiest time of the year,” said Caroline Park, who owns Thunder Island Brewing Co. in Cascade Locks alongside partner Dave Lipps.
Other businesses were closed even longer, she said. Losses in revenue from the I-84 closure were widespread, Park noted.
Owners of Multnomah Falls Lodge said firefighters buckled down and saved the structure, but business has ground entirely to a halt — and employees laid off — with the site closed.
Representatives of Freebridge and Sedition breweries in The Dalles also brought up impacts the fire had on their businesses, following an already challenging winter.
Brown vowed to gather information on business impacts and directed staff to aid in recovery. She acknowledged the long, arduous path forward the endeavor will take.
“The economic recovery and the healing are not going to happen overnight,” Brown said.
Hood River County declared a fire emergency in response to the Eagle Creek fire in early September. As a result, local businesses may be eligible for low-interest long term Small Business Administration (SBA) loans to help them recover from economic impacts of lost revenue.
Those interested should email County Emergency Manager Barbara Ayers. Applicants must be signed up no later than Oct. 12.
The county also has an SBA disaster loan open from the January 2017 winter storm emergency — those applications are due to SBA before January 2018.