Gorge panel adopts 'triage' strategy
of The Chronicle
The Columbia River Gorge Commission is struggling to decide what can
and cannot be accomplished in the gorge management plan review before
July 1, when budget cuts are expected to affect commission operations
in the new fiscal year.
During public testimony last Tuesday, Friends of the Gorge suggested
closing the review for now in light of financial constraints, but
a Skamania County representative said early termination would waste
the time and effort already invested.
Congress requires plan review at least every 10 years to determine
the document meets the purposes of the 1986 Columbia River Gorge National
Scenic Act to protect gorge resources and encourage economic development
in designated urban areas.
Commission and Forest Service staffs recommended a short-term list
of issues to cover by July 1, and a long-term list for the future.
But, even with the “triage” approach, commission staff say the short-term
list is ambitious.
“Triage” is a medical emergency room term, referring to the priorities
assigned different patients when resources are in limited supply.
The first-ever gorge management plan review has been ongoing since
May 2001, beginning with public outreach in which 1,600 comments were
received from citizens and development planners regarding concerns
and possible changes to the document. Early in the process, the commission
adopted a scope of work for the review based on these comments. The
commission is focusing on areas of the plan that may need to be revised
for clarity, that were subject of litigation, or guidelines that have
proven to be a headache to implement. The commission also needs to
update parts of the plan, such as natural resource inventories, to
reflect changes in state and national laws since the plan’s adoption.
Conservation Director Michael Lang of Friends of the Gorge said his
organization believes the commission has fulfilled its statutory obligation
to review the plan. He contended that revisions are not required under
plan review, unless inconsistencies with the act are found.
At the least, Friends supported removing items from the ambitious
short-term list and offered five criteria for evaluating whether to
proceed with reviewing a topic.
“To our knowledge, the commission has not identified any provisions
of the plan that are inconsistent with the act,” Lang said, reading
from a memo addressed to the commission.
He said Friends opposed proceeding on plan review issues that address
“narrow economic interests that benefits the few,” adding that rezoning
specific properties or allowing commercial or industrial uses currently
prohibited in the scenic act “do not further the purposes and standards”
of the act and “are not in the public’s interest.”
Commissioner Kathy Sheehan questioned if that ignored the second goal
of the scenic act in protecting and supporting economic development
in a way that is consistent with the first goal of resource protection.
Lang offered that resource protection was the primary purpose and
that economic development was secondary. He told the commission that
Friends did not mind if the plan review helped economic development
in the gorge, but said they don’t think the commission is mandated
to provide economic development.
Commissioner Don Dunn said, “The management plan is not just reviewed
for consistency.” The purpose of the review is to find provisions
that are unfair or harsh on property owners, Dunn explained.
“I believe we found some of those...where we find limitations in the
plan,” he said.
Skamania County Planning Director Karen Witherspoon said use of a
short-term list is something her county could support, but added they
believe both lists, short- and long-term, needed to be completed in
the near future. She urged the commission to make use of Skamania
County’s planning resources and staff expertise in the review, saying
that their county planners are already spending resources to attend
gorge commission meetings to listen to public comment. She said the
planners should be working as true partner agencies and helping draft
text and working on details along side commission and Forest Service
She said Skamania County did not support terminating the plan review
and update, and to do so would be “wasting all the time and effort
supplied by the commission, the Forest Service, the partner agencies
and members of the public.”
“You have not met the public’s concerns in plan review,” she added.
Commission Executive Director Martha Bennett reported that most of
the topics on the short-term list was between 50 and 95 percent completed.
Four topics were removed from the short-term list, including cluster
developments, temporary uses, home occupations and cottage industries
in special management areas (SMA) and uses in the Columbia River.
In the next three months, the commission will proceed with work on
the short-term list, which includes broad categories of scenic resources,
land use and natural resources.
The vote was split, 7 to 2, in favor of the adjusted short-term list.
Commissioners Wayne Wooster and Sheehan, who voted no, were concerned
about scenic resource topics left off the short-term list, especially
cumulative impacts to scenic resources.
Area Forest Service Manager Dan Harkenrider said he didn’t know why
the commission needed to agonize over the triage lists, saying that
they would proceed with the work.
“There is life after July 1,” he said.
For more information, contact the gorge commission at (509) 493-3323
or visit www.gorgecommission.org
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In Other News...
Feb. 28, 2003
Committee eyes gorge commission changes
Oregon legislative subcommittee suggests overhaul of procedures
By NANCY LEMONS
of The Dalles Chronicle
An Oregon legislative subcommittee offered 19 recommendations for
changes in the way the state administers the Columbia River Gorge
National Scenic Act, including the creation of a standing oversight
Property-rights advocates, as well as conservationists, agree with
a number of the recommendations. However, gorge property-rights groups
say Oregon’s trying to fix “something that is terribly broken.” They
want a major overhaul.
Conservation group, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, claims some of
the recommendations add yet another level of bureauracy that Oregon
The Subcommittee on Columbia River Gorge Commission Review, under
the Joint Interim Committee on Natural Resources, developed the findings
and related recommendations from public testimony at three hearings
in the gorge last year, beginning in the spring.
Subcommittee co-chair, Sen. Ted Ferrioli said there was “overwhelming”
support for the scenic act, but residents, including some who support
it, are critical of a “cumbersome” process and perceive it to be unfair.
Suggested changes in the findings and recommendations address such
things as ensuring consistency in the development application process,
litigation, the need for adequate funding and economic and recreational
development, and setting benchmarks and collecting data to track the
success of administering the scenic act.
The mandate of the federal scenic act is carried out through a bi-state
compact agreement between Oregon and Washington states. In addition
to creating a standing legislative oversight committee in Oregon,
Ferrioli and fellow committee members would like to see a bi-state
committee established to open the bi-state compact to address conflicting
Oregon and Washington land use statutes. The bi-state committee would
also be charged with developing a process for appeals to be heard
by neutral third parties instead of the gorge commission; looking
into streamlining the U.S. Forest Service’s federal land acquistions
program and including general management area, as well as special
management area, in the buyout; informing Congress and state legislatures
of specific needs for increased funding and working with tribes and
counties to develop better strategies for protecting Native American
cultural and historic resources.
With Oregon’s economic problems, Ferrioli says he’s trying to keep
gorge commission funding at its current level for now. The recommendations
are not an emergency, but a long-term plan, he said.
“It takes a long time to make change in a system that has been set
up for long-term benefit,” Ferrioli said.
Friends of the Gorge say they support some recommendations, such as
compensation for land owners for stricter regulations and alternative
dispute resolutions. But, Michael Lang, conservation director for
Friends, says the Oregon lawmakers are missing the major question:
Is the gorge commission fulfilling the purpose of the scenic act and
is it providing economic development consistent with protection of
all resources as mandated by Congress?
Lang said, “The jury’s still out on that one.”
Additionally, Friends sees establishment of the legislative oversight
and bi-state committees as adding another level of bureautic red tape
to the process of gorge protection.
Ferrioli introduced a bill, mainly aimed at Multnomah County, to require
Oregon counties to stick with a deadline for land use decisions set
by state statute — 150 days. Friends argues that federal scenic area
law trumps state law. Lang said Friends is concerned the bill violates
required provisions of the scenic act. Ferrioli said they’re trying
to work something out, but he’s willing to let it be tested in the
Three representatives from property-rights advocate groups — Bobbie
Miller of Columbia Gorge United, Janis Sauter of Gorge Reality and
Rita Swyers of Oregonians in Action, say the Oregon subcommittee’s
findings and recommendations “would be helpful,” but they fear that
Oregon keeps trying to fix something that is terribly broken.
They strongly support the recommendation to create a standing legislative
oversight committee, but contend a flaw exists in the current structure
of the county- and governor-appointed gorge commission. They would
like to see an elected body that would answer directly to the voters.
They say they wonder why a gorge commission is needed and suggest
that the oversight committee could use resources to hire its own staff
to administer the scenic act.
Adding general management area land to the buyout program is something
they oppose under the present structure, commenting it “would be a
They contend many “willing sellers” in the past were not exactly willing,
but their backs were against the wall.
The three groups say they are concerned with the amount of land taken
off the tax rolls and how it will affect county incomes. They believe
the federal government should replace the income and pay the counties
for the loss in tax revenue beyond the eight years as laid out in
the current federal land acquistion plan.
“The intent of this law is to preserve the beauty of the gorge for
all of the people of the U.S. and should not be a financial burden
to residents, the six counties and the two states where the gorge
is located,” wrote representatives from the property-rights groups
in response to the Oregon subcommittee’s recommendations.
The three goups worked together to conduct a survey of gorge property
owners to create a record of past land use violations since implementation
of the scenic act. They presented the information during the Oregon
public hearings on the Columbia River Gorge Commission. They are pushing
for an impartial agent to review and correct what they say are past
violations of the law by the commission.
They see the ongoing gorge management plan review being conducted
by the gorge commission as the “wolf watching the chicken coop.”
Washington State Sen. Jim Honeyford, who was present during some of
the Oregon public hearings said he probably won’t introduce any legislation
this session. But his future plans include working with the Oregon
legislature to make changes to the bi-state compact to provide that
land use decisions be appealed in the state where they originated.
Like property-rights advocates, Honeyford would like the gorge commission
to be an elected body, representing people of their county. Ferrioli
doesn’t support this idea and explained that people now have indirect
influence through their elected county commission and state governors
who appoint the gorge commissioners.
Gorge Commission Executive Director Martha Bennett said the subcommittee’s
findings were “fair and well-reasoned.”
In speaking about using alternative dispute resolution, instead of
hearings and litigation, Bennett said, “We’ve been tring to do that.”
She added that 50 percent of the cases in the past year have been
“It doesn’t mean we will settle every time, but we’ll attempt before
it ends up in a hearing,” she said.
Bennett said the scenic act distributed power widely to different
agencies which is a strong network when it’s working well. She said
there needs to be a greater recognition of the role other agencies
She says over time things have gotten better in applying gorge regulations
of the management plan and the commission staff knows a lot more about
how to work with county planners.