Wednesday, December 19, 2001
The Columbia River Scenic Area: a river runs through it -- and so do plenty of varied opinions.
The Scenic Area, by very identity, is split down the middle. By a river, by mission, and by ideas.
Its dual mission, which seems sometimes to contradict, is to protect natural resources (what resources!) and promote urban-area economic development (what potential!)
A third aspect of the Scenic Area's bisection is budgetary. (See article, page A1.) Serious budget crunches face the state governments of Oregon and Washington; they share funding for the Gorge Commission that oversees the goals of the Scenic Act.
The budgetary problems come along just as the Gorge Commission conducts the first major review of its Scenic Area management plan, on the 10th anniversary of the plan's adoption.
The agency is moving forth with its three-tiered plan review, despite the budget shortfalls emanating from Olympia and Salem, and that is as it should be. With some ups and downs and criticism from people of all viewpoints, the Commission has weathered its rock-and-hard-place position ever since its inception. Its new director, Martha Bennett, has displayed energy and openness since coming on board mid-year.
Yet Bennett and the Commission should re-think her suggestion this week that public involvement might be one of the things that get cut back.
Bennett envisions that fewer meetings in fewer locations, to take public input, would be one effect of the bi-state budget bugaboo.
But the Commission should find other ways to reduce its budget. The Scenic Act has come to a milestone in its young history. Budget crunch or not, this is no time to consider curtailing opportunities for people to speak to the work of the Commission.