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Gorge Commission approves strategy for reviewing management plan

Commission staff will address 17 policy issues over next 18 months

The Gorge Commission on Tuesday gave staff the green light to start work on the first-ever review of the Management Plan for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Meeting at Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, commissioners unanimously approved a three-tiered work plan that will address 17 major policy issues covering 10 topic areas over the next 18 months. Review of the Management Plan is required every 10 years to see how well it is working to achieve its main purposes of protecting Scenic Area resources and promoting economic development in designated urban areas.

The work plan groups the Plan Review topics into three levels, based on their complexity, and the amount of staff time, research and public involvement required. Level One topics, which will take the most time and input from citizens and technical experts, are Scenic Resources, Land Use and Administration, Topics assigned to Level Two include Recreation Resources, Agricultural Lands, Economic Development, and Natural Resources. Level Three topics, relatively the narrowest in scope, are Forest Land and Open Space.

Commission Executive Director Martha Bennett said work will begin early 2002 on two Level One topics, Land Use and Scenic Resources. Land Use, because of the number of issues and stakeholder groups involved, will take an estimated 15 months to complete while the time frame for Scenic Resources is 10 months.

Work on a pair of Level Two topics, Cultural Resources and Natural Resources, also will get under way early in the year. Because Cultural Resources involves extensive consultation with the four Gorge Indian Tribes, it may take up to a year to finish, while work on Natural Resources will require four months. Review of the other issues will begin next summer and fall. The tentative schedule calls for Gorge Commission and U.S. Forest Service Scenic Area staff to work on three to four topics at a time.

Staff will now begin developing background material on the Land Use issue for discussion at the Commission's February 12 meeting. At that session, Commissioners will provide staff with direction on the scope of work they want to see addressed for that issue.

Bennett said the work plan was based on assumptions that the Gorge Commission's budget won't face any significant reductions over the next two years from the Oregon and Washington legislatures and that there won't be a major increase in the number of development applications staff planners must process in the same time period.

Dave Robertson, a state of Oregon appointee on the Commission, called the work plan "a good framework" to start the Plan Review process. Hood River County's representative on the bi-state board, Joyce Reinig, added, "We need to look at what's broken in the Management Plan and work on those issues."

Commissioners also agreed on goals they hope to accomplish in Plan Review: ensuring the Management Plan continues to meet the Scenic Act's main purposes of resource protection and economic development in urban areas; making the Management Plan easier to understand and use; and making the Plan Review process clear and understandable to the public and the Commission's partners who implement the Management Plan - the six Gorge counties, four Tribes.

Additional information on Plan Review issues may be obtained by visiting the Commission's web site at []


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