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Ports smoke screen obscured the Troutdale airport tree solution

A smoke screen created by the Port of Portland clouded the facts around the issue of allowing fire-fighting airplanes to use the Troutdale Airport.

Contrary to reports, Friends of the Columbia Gorge did not take a position against the cutting of trees to clear the flight path. Like everyone else, we want to see our forests protected. But when you can support fire-fighting efforts and protect the natural resources around you, shouldn't you do both? Apparently, the Port of Portland didn't think so.

The Port of Portland has held an easement on the National Scenic Area property in question for decades for the purpose of managing the vegetation. But the port did little to nothing for almost 30 years as the quick-growing cottonwoods emerged. Finally, in late 2002, the Federal Aviation Administration pushed the port to address the tree height. In 2003, nothing happened. In 2004, nothing happened.

Finally, in late 2005, the port began the process and announced that it wanted to top about 20 feet off a couple hundred trees. We encouraged the port to apply for a permit like any other landowner. A permit would review the impacts of the tree trimming to the adjacent Sandy River and natural habitat. Even with this review, if the port had applied earlier, it would have completed the tree-trimming prior to this fire season.

Instead, the port pushed for an outright exemption of all natural and scenic resource review and expanded its request from trimming a couple hundred trees to completely removing more than 1,000 trees, down to the roots.

By waiting for decades and then pushing for an unprecedented exemption, the port created the debacle we witnessed this week. While fingers were pointed at Multnomah County and Friends of the Columbia Gorge, in truth, the Port of Portland failed miserably in Project Management 101.

But the issue at hand is the fire season, and there is a way for the port to move forward expediently while safeguarding the natural resources of the Columbia River Gorge. Multnomah County rules allow entities like the port to take rapid responses to emergencies and disasters in the National Scenic Area while still allowing for review by the county to protect resources. On Wednesday, Multnomah County announced that it would follow this course. It a mystery as to why the port didn't pursue this route, other than that it was intent on being exempted from all scenic and natural review of its logging plans.

With an emergency permit to address this issue, the port still will be required to review the impacts of potential tree removal and mitigate any impact to fish and wildlife habitat, scenic protections and flood control in the Sandy River Delta.

Kevin Gorman is the executive director of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge.