Locke uses soft butter to cut Gorge Commission funding

"Faced with this huge deficit, you would think that one of the most obvious places to cut would be the funding for the Columbia River Gorge Commission. Instead, Governor Locke has proposed that the budget of the Gorge Commission be increased by 38.2%, raising the funding from $1,429,120 in 2001-03 Biennium to $1,975,000 in 2003-05."


This editorial column is courtesy of the Klickitat County Monitor in Lyle, WA
from Gorge Real-i-ty, a nonprofit small group of landowners in the Columbia Gorge

Reprinted with Permission

Posted 1/27/03

Klickatat County, WA - Washington State faces a $2 billion budget shortfall and Governor Locke has proposed a budget that will “kick thousands of people off state health insurance rolls (60,000 people according to this article), lay off about 1,250 state workers, temporarily close several state parks, cut more than $100 million in higher education funding, offer early prison release for 1,200 low-risk offenders and cut millions in programs for the poor, disabled and mentally ill - and much more when federal matching funds are included” according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer article “Locke cuts deep and wide in new budget” dated December 18, 2002.

Faced with this huge deficit, you would think that one of the most obvious places to cut would be the funding for the Columbia River Gorge Commission. Instead, Governor Locke has proposed that the budget of the Gorge Commission be increased by 38.2%, raising the funding from $1,429,120 in 2001-03 Biennium to $1,975,000 in 2003-05.

Governor Locke is well aware of the actions of the Gorge Commission as we have written him on several occasions.

The most recent letter was mailed from us on October 19, 2002 explaining to him (among other things) that the Secretary of Agriculture had not concurred with the Management Plan (as mandated by the Scenic Act), even though the Gorge Commission stated that he had.

On December 3, 2002, we received a response from Ron D. Shultz, Executive Policy Advisor who stated “The Gorge Commission faces the difficult task of balancing the broad public interest in the protection of the Gorge with the rights and interests of those living in the area. This effort is not always easy, but the Governor believes that the Commission has performed its tasks well. As with any program or agency, a periodic examination of their activities to ensure they area carrying-out their stated mission effectively is healthy. The information you have provided will be in cluded as part of the file for the Commission.”

In other words, nothing will be done by this Governor to reign this agency in. Instead, he has proposed to increase their budget while cutting important services. Governor Locke is well aware that the rights and interests of those living in the area have been ignored.

We are not certain it would make any difference whether the State funded the Commission or not. According to WA Senator Don Benton, when the states attempted to cut the Gorge Commission’s funding, “the Federal Congress negated our will by appropriating federal funds for the Commission”. This was a democrat-controlled congress. The big difference between State and Federal funding of this agency is the group of people who will foot the bill.

We’d like to commend WA Senator Benton for his efforts in trying to bring accountability to this agency, as well as his determination to uphold the Constitution, something that every Senator and Representative take an oath of office to do. On January 18, 2001, Senator Benton wrote the following letter to Secretary Gale Norton of the U.S. Department of the Interior:

“I am writing to you concerning a matter of vital importance to myself, to many of my constituents, and to the nation, concerning the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act. I implore you to investigate and to act immediately to ensure that checks and balances are restored to all governing bodies in our nation, including the Columbia River Gorge Commission.

"As both a State Senator and Chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, I feel a dual duty to uphold the Constitution of the United States and to represent the rights and needs of the people of the state of Washington and of this United States. I have received many complaints from constituents of my own district as well as from the other districts, in both Washington and Oregon. These citizens are directly affected by the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act, and by the actions of the Columbia River Gorge Commission. Responses to my own queries on their behalf have satisfied me as to the validity of their complaints and concerns.

"Given one of the most cherished legacies of our country, a government personified in an unambiguous system of checks and balances, I am confounded by the establishment of apparently subject only to its own internally generated regulations. This Commission is allowed to write its own rules, enforce those rules, and to act as judge, jury, and appeal process to all who are unfortunate enough to be subject to those rules. Citizens are afforded no remedy outside the Commission itself.

"The Columbia River Gorge Commission was established in 1986 by way of an interstate compact, and was intended to be a unique partnership between federal, state and local governments. In reality, the Commission has resisted every effort by state and local government to reach a compromise in instituting equitable guidelines and decisions. The Commission’s dealings appear to manipulate rules and regulations at the whim of special interests, which work hand in hand with members of the Commission. The result is constant friction between Commission, counties and constituents.

"Of particular concern is the application of a double standard to land use applications from Gorge property owners. Some applicants have been given seemingly preferential treatment, receiving approval of their applications under the exact same standards by which other applicants have been denied. Without checks and balances in the system, biases are allowed to override common sense and impartiality.

"The possibility of this abuse of power was apparently foreseen by the Justice Department, who wrote to congress expressing their concerns prior to the passage of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act. That letter stated in part:

"‘…The bill also leaves troublesome ambiguity over the allocation of federal and state power in such areas as enforcement authority, an ambiguity which could, conceivably, reach as far as the Constitutional efficacy of the compact itself. We would be glad to discuss the bill further but are constrained to say that our concerns, which stem in large part from the bill’s ambiguity over allocation of authority, are fundamental and serious enough to warrant consideration of a veto recommendation from this Department should the Congress pass the legislation.’
The office of the Attorney General of Washington states: ‘…the Columbia River Gorge commission is not subject either to Washington’s Public Disclosure Act or the federal Freedom of Information Act. Neither is the Commission subject to Oregon’s Public Records Act.” (see enclosed letter).

WA State Governor Locke wrote: ‘Because of the interstate nature of the Commission, no governing body presides over it.’ How can this be in a country where checks and balances are the backbone of our government?
The Washington and Oregon counties whose land comprises the Scenic Area are to implement the Commission’s management plan by adopting and administering land use ordinances consistent with the plan. The counties may amend, revise, or adopt variances to said land use ordinances at any time. All but one of the counties involved have readily done so, while Klickitat County has not done so because of the issues over the wording of documents between themselves and the Commission.
"When the Washington and Oregon State Legislatures attempted to reign in the escalating powers being usurped by the Commission through reduction of their budget (our prerogative under the Act), the Federal Congress negated our will be appropriating federal funds for the Commission.

"No one is more concerned with preserving the natural beauty of the Columbia River Gorge than I, a long-time Washington resident. I cannot, however, condone the theft of citizen’s rights to reasonably use their own property. Numerous attempts locally to resolve this issue have met with failure. It is apparently only at the national level that anyone has the authority to restore reasonable standards to land use in this area.

"Again, I implore you to look into this matter and help us bring responsible management to our gorgeous Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. It is the nation that will benefit from restoring our citizen’s pride in owning a piece of one of America’s Scenic treasures.”

The response letter dated April 18, 2001, Senator Benton received was from Richard W. Paterson, Deputy Director, Recreation, Heritage, and Wilderness Resources who stated

“Thank you for your January 18, 2001 letter to President Bush regarding management of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic. This letter has been forwarded to the Forest Service to respond. We appreciate knowing your views and concerns over management of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

"The Columbia River Gorge Commission was established by a bi-State compact to manage the non-federal lands within the Scenic Area. As you know, the Commission has representatives from State and local governments in Oregon and Washington. This partnership between State and local governments and the Forest Service is critical to the successful management of this nationally significant area, which is home to thousands of citizens.

"The points you have raised in your letter will certainly be reviewed and considered by the Administration and Congress in any review or evaluation of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act. Again, thanks for your letter and continued interest in management of the Columbia River Gorge.”

Unaware at the time that Senator Benton had written to and received a response regarding his concerns, our group sent a letter to Anne Veneman, Secretary of Agriculture explaining some of the atrocities that had happened to people of the Gorge. We received a response dated June 27, 2002, not from Ms. Veneman, but from the same man who responded to Senator Benton’s letter, Richard W. Paterson, Deputy Director, Recreation, Heritage, and Wilderness Resources. The amazing thing about his response is that with the exception of one word added (the word “and”), the letter received by our group is identical to the one received by Senator Benton dated two months prior to our response letter. Must be a form letter they mail…


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