Senators try new master plan for Mount Hood

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

February 17, 2007

U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Gordon Smith, R-Ore., are trying once again to get a master plan for Mount Hood through Congress.

On Thursday, the federal officials introduced the Lewis and Clark Mount Hood Wilderness Act of 2007. A key land exchange in Hood River County will be revisited and could resolve decades of conflict between Mt. Hood Meadows Oregon LLC and the Hood River Valley Residents Committee.

That deal calls for the U.S. Forest Service to trade 120 acres near Government Camp for 769 acres of Cooper Spur lands held by Meadows. The government agency is the first choice to take over management of Meadows’ leased ski area — or that duty could be assigned to the county or another concessionaire.

The swap was part of the settlement agreement reached between the HRVRC and Meadows in 2005. However, Forest Service officials contend the valuation assigned to the Government Camp property is “unfair.”

Dave Riley, president and CEO of Meadows, and Mike McCarthy, a member of the HRVRC board, both dispute that claim. They contend the appraisal done by Steven Hall, on the Forest Service approved list, was equitable. In addition, they said the public will benefit in many other ways from the exchange.

For example, Riley said if the trade is not approved, the Crystal Springs Management Protection Area and the Tilly Jane Wilderness addition will not be created. In addition, Meadows will be free to pursue two Measure 37 claims in the southern sector of the county at more than $12,000. And the company will reactivate its development plans for the north face of Mount Hood.

“Meadows and the environmental community have been working in partnership for years to implement the historic Cooper Spur settlement agreement. We’d all like to see it finalized this spring,” said Riley.

Smith and Wyden have called for new land appraisals with their bill to address the controversy over valuation. McCarthy, who has scrutinized the work of Hall, believes his figures should be upheld.

“It’s great we’re moving ahead and I hope the delegation can encourage the Forest Service to be more reasonable than they have appeared to be,” he said. “This is a tremendous deal for the public.”

The reworked version of the 2006 bill creates almost 128,600 acres of new wilderness within the Mount Hood National Forest, a 90 percent increase. In addition, the bill adds 80 miles of added river protection. The legislation also designates 34,545 acres for mountain biking and other recreational opportunities.

The new Mount Hood Wilderness Act is once again drawing rave reviews from environmental groups.

“We are optimistic that, with a more conservation-minded Congress, the path to protecting places like Roaring River and Boulder Lake will be easier than in years past,” said Erik Fernandez, Wilderness coordinator for Oregon Wild, formerly Oregon National Resources Council.

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