File photo/Mark B. Gibson
Mount Hood is sillouetted against the setting sun in this view from Tygh Ridge south of Dufur.
As of Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and Representatives Greg Walden (R-Hood River) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Portland), introduced legislation this week to push forward a long-stalled land exchange on Mount Hood.
The “Mt. Hood Cooper Spur Land Exchange Clarification Act” emerged in a similar form in 2015. Wyden pitched the legislation as an attempt to resolve a protracted dispute over development on the northeast slope of the mountain.
The bill would allow commercial development by Mt. Hood Meadows ski resort on 107 acres on the south side of the mountain near Government Camp, while protecting 770 acres at Cooper Spur on the northeast slope as public forest land.
In 2009, Congress set the deadline for that exchange at 16 months — but about seven years later, the trade remains in limbo.
The Forest Service took early steps in November to complete the exchange, releasing a draft Environmental Impact Statement. The sweeping study evaluates the environmental, social and economic effects of the proposed land swap.
But some policymakers argue legislation is still necessary to “ensure the process is completed without further delay.”
Wyden called it a “years- and years-long holdup.”
“The delay has frustrated Oregonians and forced the local community to take the Forest Service to court,” Wyden said. “It’s far past time to close the book on this chapter of Mount Hood’s history and move forward with environmental protections and smart development so visitors and wildlife can enjoy the mountain for years to come.”
Walden said, “This land exchange is critical for protecting Crystal Springs, the water source for the city of Hood River and the upper Hood River valley, and will promote economic growth and family wage jobs in the area.”
“The communities around Mount Hood have waited long enough; it’s time for the Forest Service to finish the job. I am confident this bill will receive the overwhelming bipartisan support that moved it through the House last year, and hope the Senate will swiftly send this legislation to the President’s desk.”
The bill passed the Senate in April as part of a series of amendments attached to a broader energy bill. The House passed its version of the bill in June.
Heather Staten, Hood River Valley Residents Committee executive director, said the current bill is a “fix it” legislation, exactly the same as the previous Clarification Act, aimed at carrying out the land exchange.
“The previous act passed both the House and the Senate but never got a conference to reconcile the two versions,” Staten explained.
On Monday, Hood River County Board of Commissioners decided at their meeting to send a letter in support of the land exchange.
In a message to Lisa Northrop, Mt. Hood National Forest supervisor, Hood River County Administrator Jeff Hecksel said, “It is important that the land exchange be completed, and finalizing the environmental impact statement is an important step in completing the land exchange.
“Hood River County hopes the land exchange will continue to be processed in a timely manner consistent with the federal Act,” he said.