Apparently it helps to have friends in high places. The residents of Crook County have such a friend in Washington, D.C. and when he heard about the controversy about the Forest Service deleting Prineville from its site selection process, he made a phone call.
>When the decision to cut Prineville out of the running for the combined national forests headquarters is made, Someone with political clout gets involved, makes a phone call and things happen
The issue behind the phone call is plans to locate a new headquarters facility for the combined Ochoco/Deschutes National Forest. Originally, the Forest Service stated the decision would be made from a list of possible sites in Bend, Redmond and Prineville. Earlier this week, the supervisor for the combined National Forest, Leslie Weldon, announced that any site in the Prineville area was no longer being discussed: the new facility would be located in either Bend or Redmond.
As has been reported, Crook County Judge Scott Cooper wrote a letter to Weldon expressing his "grave concern regarding the integrity of the decision-making process" as well concern for the potential economic and social impact of the removal of 50 jobs from Prineville. Cooper believes that the decision to remove 50 top policy-making jobs from Prineville has far-reaching consequences for Prineville. Copies of the multi-page letter is being hand-carried by Commissioner Jerry Crafton to Oregon's Congressional delegation when he visits Washington, D.C. this month.
Cooper, however, did not wait for a response from that delegation. He called on former Congressman Bob Smith. "Where I got nowhere in two weeks," Cooper said,"he got in two minutes."
These days Smith is heading up the President's transition team for the Department of Agriculture. "And the Forest Service is part of that department," Cooper explained. "Smith is the only person I know who can get the President on the phone. One phone call from Bob to Leslie seems to have renewed the Forest Service's interest in Prineville."
Cooper said he would be willing to pay for Smith's help but the former Congressman informed him he didn't want money. "He sees it as his civic duty. He is one Congressman who always cared about us."
After being notified that the Prineville sites would get another look, Cooper said he met with Weldon. "I wanted to assure her that there was nothing personal in this, it's just doing business. I'm very concerned that we continue with other issues, such as forest management and road closures." Cooper said he didn't believe the location of the new headquarters facility issue has affected those issues at all.
However, he does believe that the plan to move the headquarters staff out of Prineville is only a small part of the process of complete elimination of the Forest Service presence in Prineville. Talk of relocating the Forest Service yard on Lamonta has convinced Cooper that relocating the headquarters is only phase one of the bigger plan.
Bringing Prineville back on the table is no guarantee. As Cooper noted, the Forest Service can and will do what they want. "When I met with Leslie, I wanted her to know that we really love (the Forest Service) and that we'll take every step to show how much we love you and want to keep you here." But he quickly added, "I would not overlook the possibility of a law suit over this."