Representatives from three powerful congressional offices came to White Salmon's Pioneer Center on Dec. 5 in an effort to boost the economic viability of Klickitat County, which typically has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.
Top staff members of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, and U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings all were present for the two-hour meeting, which was sponsored by the Klickitat County Economic Development Department and moderated by County Commissioner Don Struck.
Miland Walling, who serves as a consultant for the county's Economic Development Department, organized the session.
"I invited the state director from Sen. Murray's office, John Engber, and we had staff members from Sen. Cantwell's and Congressman Hastings' office as well," Walling said. "They were there for an overall view of projects we're working on in Klickitat County. We had a real good meeting."
Walling said this was an excellent time to meet with key members of the state's congressional delegation.
"With the changing of power in Congress, our two U.S. Senators will have more clout and more power," Walling explained.
There were several high-profile regional projects discussed at the meeting. Among them:
The city of White Salmon needs upgrades in its water source, storage, and distribution facilities. City Public Works Director Wil Keyser explained that the current water hookup moratorium is unlikely to be resolved until additional water rights are acquired on either a temporary or long-term basis. Keyser noted that the tribal fish processing plant is set to open in the spring. Keyser projected a total of a $12 million gap in the city's ability to fund the water and wastewater requirements of the city.
The effort to replace the Hood River Toll Bridge is continuing. The draft Environmental Impact Study has been completed, and an additional $1 million is needed to fund the final EIS and preliminary engineering.
The county Emergency Services agency and Sheriff's Office need to upgrade the current communications systems. Nine new communication towers will be required, and there is a $3 million gap in financing for the project.
The Dallesport Regional Airport seeks to improve airport and runway infrastructure to accommodate larger and heavier aircraft. Among the specifics the airport team, headed by Jim Lehman, is shooting for are: A fence for the airport's perimeter; building a fire station at the airport; water and wastewater system improvements; and extension of and improvements to Runway 25/7. Total costs for all of these four projects: $23 million.
The Port of Klickitat reported that it needs about $780,000 to maintain the Port's roads; about $350,000 for an underpass under the BNSF tracks to access Bingen Point; and another $1.3 million to loop water systems at the Port's industrial parks.
SDS Lumber Co. President Jason Spadaro discussed the Broughton Landing (near Underwood) development proposal, noting that the Columbia River Gorge Commission will be asked to amend the Management Plan in order to allow the project to move forward.
"I hope we can get Klickitat County on appropriations requests for whatever projects we have," Walling said.
Mayor Brian Prigel was among the local political leaders at the meeting. Prigel said he made a presentation about efforts to replace the interstate bridge between Hood River and Bingen-White Salmon, and also brought up water and wastewater issues.
"It was an opportunity to express to them the challenges facing this community, and a lot of it has to do with not having enough money to do certain projects," Prigel said. "We're trying to get federal money for these projects. But the representatives pointed out that the federal budget is not too good, and there is not much money available."
Prigel said he supported upgrading the regional airport in Dallesport to allow scheduled commuter service.
"That would benefit Google, Cardinal Glass, and Insitu," Prigel said.
Prigel offered a somewhat irreverent take on the meeting.
"It was a cross between sitting on Santa's lap and a dog-and-pony show," Prigel said. "It's always good to have representatives from all three offices here at once, but we'll see whether it results in any additional funding and help."
White Salmon City Council member Timi Keene noted that there were a lot of requests for funding being aired.
"Each local jurisdiction was represented. All had their hands out asking for money. Some had both hands out," Keene joked.
White Salmon council member Brad Roberts, who also attended the Pioneer Center session, said he was hopeful in the aftermath of the visit by the congressional staffers.
"We had a good meeting. Wil [Keyser] did a good job of asking for the water-sewer improvements we're looking for," said Roberts.
Walling said the meeting could bring positive results, but there were other factors in play.
"They [congressional staffers] thought it was a very good meeting. Everybody did," Walling said. "But they did say at the end of the meeting that the federal budget is still tight."
Walling pointed out that the congressional representatives cautioned that the federal budget will continue to be "lean," and that the new Congress will have a philosophy of "pay as you go" instead of the "add to the debt" approach evident in Congress in recent years.
Walling added that he will go to Washington, D.C., in February or March to directly lobby the Washington state's delegation in Congress.
"To make things happen, we'll have to stay in touch with their offices and follow up," Walling said. "We'll work on a number of these issues. There are no promises. We will continue working with their staffs and go from here."