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Rest area is a needed service

With your indulgence, we'd like to get a random thought off our mind before getting down to business: We think it's a bad idea to close the Government Camp rest area, and we don't think people should take this one sitting down.

All right, with the junior-high humor satisfied, the very serious message here is that the Oregon Department of Transportation intends to close the only public rest area between Sandy and Madras on Highway 26.

Like we said, we think this is a bad idea. And we aren't convinced that ODOT has made a strong enough argument in favor of locking the doors and walking away from this public facility.

For years - decades in fact - the public restrooms at Government Camp have been a savior to those who need immediate relief. And it's been a place to take a much-needed break. To stretch your legs. While it's doubtful that anyone has reliable numbers as to how many people have walked in and out of those doors, it's a fair bet that the number is in the millions.

ODOT tells us that this is all about money, resulting from a 2-percent reduction in its budget, forcing a choice between bathrooms and snowplows. And ODOT is quick to point out that Government Camp's rest stop isn't cheap, costing the agency as much as $90,000 a year for maintenance and operation.

Poor ODOT. The situation is so dire, apparently, that ODOT isn't even willing to follow the wise suggestion of the collective voices of the U.S. Forest Service, Villages at Mt. Hood and Government Camp, the ski operators (Summit, Skibowl and Timberline) and other business interests.

Their suggestion? Delay the closure while alternative sources of funding are found.

ODOT's response? The closure happens Oct. 31, just before the snowy travel season and the ski season gets under way.

Oh, what must that $90,000 a year do to ODOT's budget planners as they ponder spending their $5 billion biennial budget?

But wait. ODOT has a plan. The solution is simple. Just make some other agency - perhaps, some agency with even less money - responsible for the rest stop. Could that possibly be Clackamas County? Of course.

We tend to agree with County Tourism Director Danielle Cowan, who wisely points out that Clackamas County should not move into the rest-area business. After all, it's ODOT that has that expertise.

Mostly, we just have a sense that ODOT could easily find the dollars in its budget to continue operation of this needed service on Mount Hood. The idea is just plain silly that closure of this necessary facility will in any way make a meaningful dent in the agency's budget reductions.

When you stop and ponder all of the things government spends its money on that deliver so few returns to so few people, it is ridiculous to watch a government agency save a few dollars that have the potential of benefiting so many.

Come on ODOT. Nobody's buying this one.