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Bridge for a dire economy

By Tony Ahern
   Publisher
   For over 40 years the mill at Warm Springs has been a key component of the tribal economy, outputting lumber and supplying jobs. Now, with the construction downturn coupled with a gutting of lumber prices over the last couple of years, the mill is about to go quiet, laying off about 60 of its 115 employees, and maintaining only a skeleton crew capable of starting up the mill if an order came in.
   The layoffs at the mill add to the 30 percent unemployment the tribes currently endure, 50 percent when those who've stopped looking for work are factored in. Warm Springs officials report that a third of their population lives in poverty, that a $21 million gap exists between revenues and cost of services for its 4,428 members.
   Meanwhile, on Monday night in the little town of Cascade Locks on the Columbia River, the economic future of the reservation continued its public hearing road show.
   Whether the tribes can operate a casino in the Columbia River Gorge is up to the federal government. Fortunately, finally, the government has started to take the final steps in making a determination, conducting public hearings.
   There is little doubt that the reservation -- in existence since 1855, four years before the state of Oregon was established -- needs this casino. Since the 1950s and their contract with Portland General Electric on the dams, into the '60s with the founding of Kah-Nee-Ta and the Forest Products Industries, the Warm Springs Nation has worked hard to become economically viable and largely self sufficient. Approval of the Gorge Casino would keep the tribes on that tract through the 21st century.
   It can't be argued that the Gorge is not a wonderful section of the Northwest, but it is not pristine, as some anti-casino voices would have us believe. It's lined with bustling communities, train tracks, and a major freeway for goodness sake. A beautifully designed casino in a community that wants its (Cascade Locks) makes great economic sense on state, local and tribal levels.
   It may take up to a year for the secretary of Interior to decide on the issue. The sitting secretary, Dirk Kempthorne, has usually come down against off-reservation casinos. Hard to say if he'll make a decision on his way out the door later this year or if the issue will be passed on to the next administration. Might be a good thing if it is.
   Certainly, for the economy of the Warm Springs people, it will be a tragedy if the Bridge of the Gods is not, eventually, approved.
   Tribal chairman Ron Suppah compared the reservation to a third-world country Monday night. The decision on the casino will determine if Warm Springs Nation will continue to sit upon a crumbling economic base -- and endure all the social ills that entails -- or be allowed to work its way back to economic vitality.
   With revenue from the proposed Bridge of the Gods Casino, the tribes could not only provide jobs at the casino but create more employment and economic diversification opportunities on the reservation, fund educational and health programs, and revamp the reservation's infrastructure and housing opportunities. They could provide hope.
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   May the curse not spill over to page 24.
   Local Sports Illustrated readers thumbing through the March 10 edition might have noticed a familiar face upon hitting page 24. There, local and Red Sox baseball hero Jacoby Ellsbury was featured in their "First Person" series with a full-page photo and quick interview. They asked him about hitting .438 in the World Series, his battle with Coco Crisp to win the center fielder job, about his off-season conditioning program that added 15 pounds of muscle to his frame -- and about the postseason parade in his hometown, Madras, Ore.
   If you collect Jacoby stuff, find a March 10 S.I. You'll want it.
   After a somewhat slow start in spring training, Ellsbury is heating up. On Monday, the Sox played the Mets and faced Johan Santana, maybe the best left-handed pitcher in the game, the same one the Sox likely could have had on their team had they been willing to trade Ellsbury. Santana was excellent, and the Sox could only manage one run all day, but battled to one of those spring training ties, 1-1.
   Only one Sox player got two hits on the day -- Ellsbury.
   As for Sports Ill, the "curse" seems to correspond to its cover -- the individual or team often being hit with losses, injury or other minor or major catastrophe soon after adorning the magazine-- is legendary.
   Wonder what the odds are of No. 46 someday landing on that cover?