Asit Rathod knows Mount Hood.
A bill authored by Greg Walden and Earl Blumenauer requiring the U.S. Forest Service to complete a land exchange on Mt. Hood has passed the U.S. House in a lopsided bipartisan vote, 401-2.
The Mount Hood Cooper Spur Land Exchange Clarification Act (H.R. 3826) directs the Forest Service to move forward with a major property exchange first approved by Congress in 2009.
The exchange would allow Mt. Hood Meadows to develop 120 acres of federal land in Government Camp in exchange for 770 acres of land currently owned by Meadows around Cooper Spur. The 2009 Mt. Hood Wilderness Bill clearly stated that the Forest Service should complete the land exchange within 16 months, but little progress has been made in 7 years.
The deal has been in the works since 2003 and eventually earned wide support from the Oregon environmental community and Hood River Valley citizens because it would create new wilderness areas and protect the Crystal Springs source of drinking water. Meadows supported it because the exchange would allow them to build on-the-mountain lodging in Government Camp (see the map above).
But the Forest Service has been less than enthusiastic about the exchange, and the bureaucratic process thus far has been both sluggish and slug-like.
Walden (R-Hood River) and Blumenauer (D-Portland) collaborated on the Land Exchange Clarification Act to follow through on a hard-earned compromise that settled long-standing disputes between Mt. Hood preservationists and Meadows.
Mt. Hood Meadows Chairman and CEO Matthew Drake expressed gratitude to Oregon’s congressional representatives in the following statement:
“We are extremely thankful to Senator Wyden and Congressmen Walden and Blumenauer for working together in a bipartisan way to do what Congress previously directed when it passed the original 2009 Mt. Hood Legacy Act. The original act, and now the second clarifying act, protects environmentally sensitive lands in the Crystal Springs water shed and enhances Oregonian’s enjoyment of Mt. Hood, all while creating economic development and family wage jobs in the rural communities on Mt. Hood. We are also grateful to our environmental partners who have worked diligently and collaboratively to make passage of this second act of Congress possible. We look forward to the President signing this into law and urge the Forest Service to promptly move forward in implementing its provisions that will complete this long awaited exchange for the benefit of all Oregonians.”
Drake and Meadows have had to sort out boundary issues, negotiate agreements with the Hoodland Fire District and the Mt. Hood Ski Patrol, and work with Timberline management to preserve the right-of-way for a Mount Hood gondola connecting Govy to Timberline Lodge. And still they are far from finished with the 62-step bureaucratic process that guides federal land exchanges, partly due to a contentious wetlands delineation that has significantly shrunk the amount of land that Meadows will be able to develop in Govy.
The delays have spurred angry letters from elected officials, a lawsuit from the Hood River Valley Residents Committee, a formal mediation process between Meadows and the Forest Service, and now a bipartisan bill intended to speed up the process.
In an joint U.S. House of Representatives official press release, Walden and Blumenauer stated:
“Seven years ago, Congress passed our bipartisan bill clearly stating that the Forest Service should complete the Mt. Hood Cooper Spur land exchange within 16 months. And yet here we are some 88 months later having to pass new legislation to get the job done,” said Walden. “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 would allow for economic development and family wage jobs in the area. The communities around Mt. Hood have waited long enough, it’s time for the Forest Service to finish the job.”
“This land transfer has been delayed for far too long. Today’s action in the House brings us one step closer to timely completion of the exchange and further cements Congressional direction to get it done—helping to concentrate development on the south side of the mountain, protect new land under federal ownership, and realize additional protections for key areas,” said Blumenauer. “Thank you to Congressman Walden for his partnership on this bill. Together, along with our colleagues in the Senate, we will continue pushing until the Forest Service finishes the job we directed it to complete years ago.”