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Legislators Eye Scenic Act Changes

Review committee holds hearing in The Dalles.

By NANCY LEMONS

Gorge News Report

Oregon and Washington legislators need to take "ownership" of the Scenic Act and join with citizens to advocate at the state and federal level, said Oregon State Sen. Ted Ferrioli at a recent legislative hearing held in The Dalles.

The hearing was called by the Oregon Subcommittee on Columbia River Gorge Commission Review, a bipartisan panel which also includes State Reps. Patti Smith and Jeff Kropf. A few Washington legislators joined the subcommittee in conducting the hearings.

According to Ferrioli, the purpose of the hearing is to orient new subcommittee members to Gorge rules and to look for ways of improving implementation of the Scenic Act.

The subcommittee may make recommendations for legislation and changes in the bi-state compact, according to Ferrioli.

They first listened as Gorge Commission Executive Director Martha Bennett gave an overview of the bi-state agency, which the states were mandated to form and fund by the federal Scenic Act.

"For the most part, although there are problems, the Scenic Area Act is working," said Bennett.

After testimony of some Gorge residents who complained about difficulty in working with commission staff, Bennett pointed to several overlapping rings which demonstrated the various relationships of the many agencies involved in applying Gorge rules, adding that when they don't work together, the system does not work well.

Dan Harkenrider, area manager for the U.S. Forest Service, and Todd Cornett, planning director for Wasco County, both spoke on the roles of their perspective agencies in the management of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Harkenrider described the land acquisition programs administered by the Forest Service.

Cornett distributed sample information materials and paint swatches, which are resources the county provides for residents seeking permits for building or other changes in their property.

The Gorge Commission received praise and criticism from public testimony of landowners, environmentalists, and business people.

Supporters of the Scenic Act, such as Phyllis Clausen, a resident of Trout Lake, said the commission did a lot with its limited budget; however, she requested more funds to hire additional staff and to make sure there was adequate funding to perform a proper Management Plan review.

Critics of the commission requested more consistency in applying rules, clarification on certain terms (such as "visual subordinance"), and more economic development investment in Gorge communities and recreational infrastructure.

The Dalles Realtor Jim Wilcox said when you hear about "$50 million in economic development, it's actually environment enhancement."

"People won't be able to live here if they don't have jobs," he said.

Wilcox also said people needed to be treated fairly in enforcing scenic rules.

Ferrioli agreed that the level of economic development promised with the Scenic Act's passage has not happened.

Michael Lang, conservation director for Friends of the Gorge, spoke about that organization's mission and role as a watchdog group in the protection of the National Scenic Area. He pointed out that the Gorge Commission is made up of local decision makers, most of whom live in the Gorge.

He spoke of how development was happening in the Gorge with only three percent of the applications being denied by Gorge Commissioners. He added that it was hard to please everybody.

State Rep. Donna Nelson of Yamhill cautioned Lang and his organization to think about the personal hardships and financial expense of Gorge residents before choosing to pursue litigation.

The Gorge Commission is mandated to review the management plan every 10 years to see how well it is working to meet the dual purpose of the act -- protect Gorge resources and promote economic development within designated urban areas.

Two additional hearings -- June 26 in Hood River and Oct. 15 in Corbett -- are scheduled.

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