Gorge Commission begins air quality study

The Columbia River Gorge Commission approved a revised work plan for studying Air Quality in the Gorge last week. This approval kicks off a two-year study of the composition and sources of air pollution in the Gorge, according to a Commission press release.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Southwest Washington Clean Air Agency (SWCAA) presented the new work plan, which was revised because the Washington Department of Ecology’s visibility programs were eliminated as part of Washington’s 2003-2005 budget. The federal funding available for the study is also smaller than originally intended, although several other projects underway in the Northwest will assist in studying Gorge Air Quality.

“The revised work plan makes very efficient use of limited dollars and staff,” said Martha Bennett, Executive Director. “It leverages other studies, and it is focused on defining what pollutants are in the air and where they come from.”

The study will begin by collecting information about Gorge air at several monitoring stations throughout the National Scenic Area in the upcoming winter and summer. The revised work plan also includes a computer model that will project how air quality in the Gorge is affected by changes. For example, the model will project how new programs for low sulfur diesel fuel will change the conditions in the Gorge.

As part of their approval, the Commission asked that DEQ and SWCAA report on how they will use the results of the air quality study to develop a regional air quality strategy in their annual report to the Gorge Commission in August 2004.

In other action, the Columbia River Gorge Commission formally decided to conclude its Plan Review project and begin the process of adopting a revised Management Plan. The Commission decided to complete work on three land use topics (defining repair and maintenance, expanding the list of uses allowed without a permit, and creating a streamlined permitting process for certain land uses) and two scenic resource topics with other state agencies, including regulations for fuel break and scenic protection regulations in forest zones, and conflicts between Washington State and Scenic Area rules for mining.

“Although there are many issues we had planned to work on,” said Bennett, “the Commission had to respond to a 15 percent cut in our 2003-2005 budget. We do not have the staff to complete the entire plan review project. Additionally, the Commission wants to make sure that the important changes we have made so far get implemented quickly. That happens only once we’ve adopted the revised plan and counties respond by changing their land use ordinances.”

Some of the issues that won’t be considered because of this decision include regulations that deal with new cultivation, the income levels required for new houses in agricultural zones, and updating the Management Plan’s recreation development plan. A complete list of issues can be found on the Commission’s Website at: www.gorgecommission.org.

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The Columbia River Gorge Commission formally recognized outgoing Commissioner Donald Dunn who served as the representative from Wasco County for eight years, and welcomed Judy Davis of Rowena as its new representative from Wasco County on Tuesday. Davis has a PhD in Urban Studies from Portland State University and experience on the Planning Commission for Cowlitz County. Davis has also been active in the Commission’s plan review project, attending many issues dealing with how the Management Plan protects Gorge scenery.

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