Read the full version of this story in the Dec. 27 edition of Hood River News.
A long-delayed land swap on Mount Hood that sets out areas for commercial development and protected forest land has cleared Congress.
The bill unanimously passed the Senate on Thursday night, Dec. 21, which means it’s headed to President Donald Trump’s desk to be signed into law.
The bipartisan legislation written by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Representatives Greg Walden, (R-Ore.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) was aimed at protecting and enhancing Oregon’s land conservation and recreation priorities on the mountain.
The Act allows development of about 100 acres near Government Camp while protecting more than 700 acres on the north side — including a swath of Hood River County acreage — as forest land. Mt. Hood Meadows ski resort has advocated for developing the south side for years.
Wyden, Merkley, Walden and Blumenauer introduced the “Mt. Hood Cooper Spur Land Exchange Clarification Act” in the Senate and House earlier this year to help resolve a nearly nine-year-long dispute over proposed development on the northeast side the mountain.
Congress passed a broad public lands bill in 2009 that included the land exchange as part of the Mt. Hood Wilderness designation. That law directed the U.S. Forest Service to complete the exchange within 16 months. However, multiple delays since then have stalled conservation and development, and sparked a lawsuit against the Forest Service.
Four members of Oregon’s Congressional delegation involved in the bill lauded its passage.
“I’m proud to have worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both houses of Congress to put this long overdue land exchange in the history books,” Wyden said. “Our soon-to-be-law closes this frustrating chapter of Mount Hood’s past and makes it possible for the local community to finally go forward with wilderness protections and responsible development so wildlife and visitors can enjoy Mount Hood far into the future.”
“At long last, the Mt. Hood community will have the development and preservation my colleagues and I have been pushing for,” Merkley said. “This bill will help to preserve unique and beautiful wilderness areas on Mt. Hood while also creating new economic opportunities in the surrounding community.”
“Completing the Cooper Spur land exchange is key to protecting Crystal Springs, the water source for the City of Hood River and the upper Hood River Valley, while also encouraging economic and job growth around Mount Hood,” Walden said. “These communities have waited nearly nine years for the Forest Service to complete the exchange Congress gave them 16 months to finish. This is long past due and I look forward to President Trump signing this bill into law so the job can finally get done.”
“The land exchange is the culmination of years of work to protect important habitat and recreational opportunities on Mount Hood,” Blumenauer said. “This legislation is important for the future of the mountain, and I welcome its passage.”
Les Perkins, a Hood River County Commissioner, spoke in favor of the bill as an individual commissioner.
Perkins said, “With this bipartisan bill, we will finally be able to put this issue to rest. I want to thank all of the community members who pushed for the completion of this exchange and I want to thank our representatives in both the House and Senate who did not give up.”
He called it a “unified effort” that’s “unusual in these political times and I'm proud that it comes out of our little community right here in Oregon.”