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If ya gotta go ... you can

But long-term funding is needed in order to settle the rest area issue at Government Camp
by: File photo A plan has materialized to keep this public restroom open at Government Camp on Highway 26. The Oregon Department of Transportation planned to close the rest room later this month as a casuality of budget cuts.

The Government Camp rest area has a new lease on life - thanks to a partnership between public and private interests.

The rest stop was ready to be closed in 2½ weeks because of budget reductions by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

In an Oct. 8 meeting billed as a town hall discussion of the closure of the Government Camp rest area, several legislators and state and county officials simply announced they had come to an agreement.

Prior to the meeting, they reached a decision on how to keep the rest area open until March 2012. Any long-term solution will be on the agenda of the five-week legislative session next February.

The short-term solution includes Oregon Travel Experience (OTE) operating and maintaining the rest area through March 2012, with Clackamas County assisting with the expenses.

Since 2009, OTE has operated several other rest areas on Interstate-5 and Interstate-84. OTE, an outgrowth of the state's Travel Information Council, is responsible for providing the blue highway signs directing travelers to local businesses.

The Oregon Department of Transportation will provide up to $50,000 for demolition of the rest stop if long-term funding isn't secured.

But if long-term funds are obtained, ODOT will give what's remaining of the $50,000 (after October and November maintenance costs are paid) to OTE to help improve the facility. ODOT also will provide snow removal of the parking area during winter months.

At the town hall, Jim Renner, OTE's chief adviser for rules and policies, told the nearly 50 people attending he thought the Government Camp rest area could be operated in a similar fashion to the Baldock Rest Area, just south of Wilsonville on I-5.

At Baldock, OTE secured the janitorial and landscape services of some of the homeless people who had been camping at the rest stop.

'We hired them to be our employees,' he said at the town hall. 'It has worked out really well, and when we saw the (proposed) closure of the Government Camp rest stop, we wondered if the Baldock model would work there.'

Renner suggested he could bring some of the homeless people from Baldock to maintain the rest stop in Government Camp. But Marilyn Anderson, who billed herself as a 'concerned local resident,' said it would be better to use homeless people from the mountain villages.

Sandy Palmer, a resident of Welches, expressed her frustration with the situation.

She reminded the ODOT representatives present that six months ago ODOT told her and members of the Mt. Hood Business Alliance the rest area 'was not in jeopardy.' But she said, the rest area is old and in disrepair as well as difficult to maintain.

The rest area, described by several as a 'safety area,' was first constructed about 1952, according to an ODOT representative.

'Mount Hood is the No. 1 tourist attraction in our state,' Palmer said, 'and the fact that no one has paid attention to providing a decent rest stop in the vicinity of Mount Hood . . . is just amazing. We need a long-term solution and a better location. We need some investment in a permanent rest stop . . . I think it's just atrocious that nobody has done anything about this until now.'

Several legislators present spoke about the long-term solution they believe they can craft during the next legislative session in February.

Rep. Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, co-chairman of the Legislature's Transportation and Economic Development Committee, suggested long-term funding should come from state highway funds.

Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, who is on the Ways and Means subcommittee of Hunt's committee, said he could gain support from some Central Oregon legislators.

Rep. Mark Johnson, R-Hood River, acknowledged how all of the legislators had received pressure from their constituents to take action.

'It's amazing how an outhouse can energize public opinion, but we've all had emails galore,' he told the town hall attendees. 'What you have had laid out before you today is a realistic, viable solution that will meet everybody's needs.'

Sen. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River, said he was amazed at the collaboration that had taken place to get this far with a short-term fix.

'To think we learned about an 'inevitable' closure three weeks ago,' he said, 'and to now have garnered across-the-board consensus to keep it open speaks volumes of our Mount Hood villages community and everyone who was at the table making this happen.'

Some people suggested reopening the visitor information center between Brightwood and Welches, but Danielle Cowan of the county's Tourism Development Council said that service was still in limbo because of funding issues.

After the meeting, Cowan told The Sandy Post there are a number of options for operating the rest area for the long term.

'I think the ski operators and the local community have some ideas of how it might work,' she said. 'I know the Travel Information Council has a community-based format that they function from . . . and we're excited about the (TIC) coming in because we've worked with them before. (Rest stops) is not what ODOT does; they build roads and bridges.'

In its budget reductions, ODOT also has cut other funds and plans to close three other rest areas: two in Southern Oregon and one near Tillamook on the coast.