The Columbia River Gorge Commission has been the setting for some epic seesaw battles over the years -- the Bea house, the View Point Inn, and, most recently, Broughton Landing. But those were generally about the fate of specific properties.
The next big issue facing the commission involves much broader questions about the future of the Gorge.
The specific instance will be when one of the Gorge urban areas now working towards expansion of their boundary -- Lyle, Hood River and The Dalles, brings that request to the Gorge Commission.
The larger question will be whether the commission will allow the urban areas to grow under any circumstances, or keep them locked forever in their current boundaries.
Battle lines are definitely being drawn. A former congressional aide said the whole purpose of the National Scenic Area Act was "to not to allow those urban areas to become sort of a cancer that starts dissolving the scenic area from the inside out."
That's an ugly image, but no uglier than the thought of each urban area being locked in its own Berlin Wall.
In a June 19 editorial The Oregonian pummeled the Gorge Commission, saying it had "lost its way," and "needs to get back on track and it needs to do so soon."
The editorial cites the two purposes of the act, but omits the key phrase "encouraging growth to occur in existing urban areas and by allowing future economic development."
It's interesting to see The Oregonian, which is able to find infinite shades of gray and subtle nuance when it comes to moral issues, suddenly takes on a love-it-or-leave it black-and-white stand -- involving other people's property.
Had The Oregonian actually attended the June 10 meeting of the commission, it would have heard Joe Mentor, former staff counsel for Sen. Daniel Evans of Washington, who reminded commissioners that the design of the commission was very carefully crafted to balance interests.
"Local interests cannot prevail over the state interests," he said, "and the Oregon interests can't prevail over the Washington interests. Those from Washington have to bring at least one over from Oregon to prevail. If you're a local interest, you have to bring the states, and then if you're the states, you have to bring a local."
That's the kind of balance and compromise The Oregonian has forgotten in its rush to judgment.
No doubt, it is still peeved about the Broughton Landing decision. But there was no lack of public input in the multi-year process that led to the decision, and when 100 percent of the county-appointed commissioners and two-thirds of the state-appointed commissioners vote in favor of a project, perhaps they do so not because they are in the grip of fiendish developers, but because the project has merit.
(Reprinted in part from the June 24, 2008 The Dalles Chronicle)