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Controversy swirled around scenic act in 1986

by: Contributed photo The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act, which includes Wind Mountain, will mark its 25th anniversary Thursday, Nov. 17.

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act will mark its 25th anniversary Thursday, Nov. 17. It was a landmark piece of land preservation designed to protect and enhance the resources of the gorge while setting standards for future economic growth within the urban areas.

The National Scenic Area stretches about 85 miles, covering six counties in Oregon and Washington and encompassing more than 292,500 acres, most of which fall under strict land-use regulations.

East County residents can see the sudden switch from urban areas to the scenic area just by crossing the Sandy River at Troutdale.

It was concern over urban sprawl from the Portland-metro area to The Dalles that led concerned citizens to push for the creation of the scenic area.

President Ronald Reagan reluctantly signed the bill into law, just before it could have died from a pocket veto. Oregon Sens. Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood and Washington Sen. Dan Evans, all Republicans, were credited with convincing Reagan to sign the bill, according to an Outlook article.

The act has attracted its share of praise and criticism - as well as legal challenges and political wrangling.

Locally, the act has not been without scrutiny.

While some unincorporated communities in the gorge had their boundaries protected just as cities in the gorge, Corbett failed to ask for the same designation - largely because many residents did not believe the act would pass.

After the act's passage, The Outlook reported in November 1986 that many Corbett residents outside the scenic area were worried about property values and how their taxes would be affected, especially when the government started purchasing land and taking it off the tax rolls.

One Corbett resident, whose 14.5-acre property near Crown Point fell within the special management area, told The Outlook she could not subdivide her property, although county zoning had prevented her from subdividing the land anyway.

Chuck Rollins, president of the Crown Point Country Historic Society, says the scenic act overlooked many historic properties in the gorge that have since been demolished. Advocates had to undergo a long, complicated procedure to get historic properties even considered, he says.

Rollins was part of the 10-year battle to try and save the historic mill town of Bridal Veil, which was lost. Other significant buildings, such as workers' buildings at Bonneville Dam and the Gilbaugh dairy, were torn down before they could be surveyed, he says.

His suggestion for the future was for the gorge commission to consult the historic societies to see what was worth preserving.

'We came up with a plan to fix it, and I haven't heard anything since,' he says.

Troutdale city officials at the time were hopeful that the city could apply for economic development funds through the legislation, such as funding a gorge interpretive center. (The proposed interpretive center was built in The Dalles.)

But Troutdale officials were also miffed that a mile-long strip of the city on the east side of the Sandy River was inside the scenic area, creating confusion for the property owners. For many years, those owners had to answer to both the city and county permitting until a compromise was later reached.

Supporters note that the National Scenic Area has also benefitted East County by protecting a beautiful area and by attracting millions of visitors each year.

Troutdale City Councilor David Ripma, who owns a home and 20 acres in Lyle, Wash., says the act limits some things he can do with his property. But he notes that he enjoys the scenic drive through the gorge and its natural beauty, and he feels it's worth it.

'I bought the home knowing I was in the gorge, and I was prepared for it,' he says.