The Columbia River Gorge Commission received numerous ideas for refining the Scenic Area's Management Plan at a special public hearing Monday night at Dolce Skamania Lodge in Stevenson.
The hearing was aimed at soliciting public comment on a recommended list of priority issues announced earlier this month for the first-ever review of the Management Plan. The priority list is comprised of 13 policy issues and 13 other measures that address technical matters in the plan that need review.
Written comment on the priority list will be taken through Oct. 29, and may be mailed to the Gorge Commission at P.O. Box 730, White Salmon, Wash. 98672 or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments also will be taken at the Nov. 13 meeting of the Commission at the Rock Creek Center in Stevenson. The priority list is available on the Commission's web site www.GorgeCommission.org or by calling the Commission's office at 493-3323.
"We received lots of good feedback at Monday's hearing," said Martha Bennett, the Commission's executive director. "We appreciate the thought that people put into the issues they commented about.
"Almost all the comments were constructive," she said, "and I'm encouraged the plan review process over the next year will help build consensus among our different stakeholder groups."
At Monday's public hearing, suggestions for changing the Management Plan ranged from allowing churches and cemeteries in the Scenic Area to conducting a "build out" study to examine what the Gorge would look like in 100 years, to creating a "negotiation board" for mediation of land use disputes.
Georgia Murray, president of Columbia Gorge United, told Commissioners that churches and cemeteries should be permitted in the Scenic Area's General Management Area, not just in Rural Center zones. "In county and municipal zoning ordinances, churches are even allowable in an industrial zone on a conditional use basis," she said.
One of the 13 policy issues included in the recommended priority list, in the General Land Use category, calls for consideration of allowing certain new uses -- such as churches, cemeteries and uses in the Columbia River itself -- as well as examining guidelines for other uses such as cluster developments and mining, and for reviewing minimum lot sizes.
Kevin Gorman, executive director of Friends of the Columbia Gorge, focused his testimony on two "bigger-picture" issues -- forecasting into the future, and the upcoming 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
"The (monitoring) reports created by the Gorge Commission's staff, the Forest Service and county planners are an excellent first start at looking at the past and present," Gorman said, "but they do little in the way of looking into the future. The Gorge Commission, as well as the public, needs to understand where the National Scenic Area Act is taking us. If current protections remained in place, what would the Gorge look like in 50 years or 100 years?"
The Dalles resident Bobbie Miller said another high-priority issue during the plan review process should be creation of a citizen board to mediate land use disputes between Scenic Area property owners and the Commission.
"A negotiation board needs to be put in place so that there is a place for property owners to go to mediate solutions to their particular and individual problem," she said. "If this had been in place the last 10 years, you would have had no problem with legal fees and would have had plenty of funds in your budget to carry on your work."
Miller also urged Commissioners to add some "common sense" to the Management Plan. "Simplify, simplify, simplify your administration and cut down on your massive paper work," she said.
Portland, Ore., resident John Marks also made a pitch for "more common sense" in land use regulations governing Scenic Area residents.
Marks also said quarries and gravel pits "create blight and should be essentially banned" in the Scenic Area.
Corbett, Ore., resident Phyllis Thiemann told Commissioners, the second purpose of the Management Plan -- economic development in the Gorge's urban areas -- should not be ignored at the expense of the plan's first purpose, protection of scenic resources.
Gorge Commission and U.S. Forest Service Scenic Area staffs will review and summarize comments received during October for the Commission at its Nov. 13 meeting. Once Commissioners approve a list of issues for Plan Review, a detailed work plan will be developed that will address issues individually.