Smith listened a lot during town hall meeting
- Bill Sheehy
- Central Oregonian - News
Hitting on issues that ranged from US Forest Service reorganization, the President's energy plan, to water issues here and in Klamath Falls, Smith spoke to a full house late last week
>Sen. Gordon Smith's only comment on the
proposed Forest Service merger of National Forests contained the word "compromise"
In the time US Sen. Gordon Smith spent with residents at last week's town hall meeting, he touched on a wide range of topics.
Nearly a hundred people turned out to hear what Sen. Gordon Smith had to say last week. The town hall meeting was originally scheduled to be held in the council chambers at city hall, but due to the overflow crowd, the meeting had to be moved to the third floor court room in the courthouse. Even then, people filled the hard benches and lined the walls to hear the senator's views on issues.
Smith began by commenting on economic problems that Oregon and the rest of the nation are facing. The present economic correction, he explained, began in the spring of 2000, "when the dot.com bubble burst and $5 trillion in equity disappeared on Wall Street. It proved the point," Smith said, "that you have to have a product that sells, and that brings us back to our natural resources."
Sen. Smith used that comment to come as close as he would on the Forest Service's proposal to merge the Ochoco and Deschutes National Forest leadership. "The Forest Service's reorganization set their proposal and we'll have to keep working under the Congressional mandate to reorganize." But, he added, "we'll keep working to get the mill (Ochoco Lumber Company mill) reopened."
When asked to clarify, Smith's field representative Susan Fitch explained that Oregon's Congressional delegation will continue to work to reach a compromise. "The Forest Service will bend a bit," she said, "but probably not as much as people want."
On the comment about reopening the local Ochoco Lumber Co. mill, Fitch said the delegation expects that the new Bush administration will make changes in the current timber plan. Those changes could mean making available more timber on federal lands.
"I wish I could give a more accommodating answer," Smith said. One of the problems, he added, is that most members of Congress come from states with little or no public lands. "We are not getting half of our timber from Canada and that doesn't seem to bother them. The national radical environmentalists have a stranglehold on the eastern US. If you live in downtown New York and have a vision of the pristine west, you're not going to listen to talk of cutting more timber in the west," he warned.
Asked directly about the Forest Service's plan to consolidate the Ochoco and Deschutes National Forest, Smith simply responded by saying, "what ultimately happens won't be what was originally proposed."
With that comment, he moved on to other topics.
One of the issues he talked about was the problems farmers in the Klamath Falls area are facing. Smith said he believes that focusing on just the short-nosed suckers and endangering eagles as well as farmers is a tragedy.
"I will continue to work to make what happened in Klamath Falls never happen again. Klamath Falls," he said, "has become the poster child of what's happening all over the west."
That brought up the subject of water shortages that local farmers could be facing. One person pointed out that irrigators in Crook County did not get their full allotment this year. The reason, managers of the Ochoco Irrigation District were told, was because of reduced winter runoffs. However, Smith was informed, the federal agency that oversees the reservoirs has been selling water to an irrigation district in Jefferson County. That, the person pointed out, should not be allowed. "The Bureau of Reclamation sold the so-called excess water, in a year the reservoir is low. How do we fight the Bureau," the woman asked.
Smith agreed and asked that information be supplied to him about the situation. "I'll help you as much as I can if you'll alert me, but I can only wring my hands after the fact. I need to hear the other side," Smith said, adding that he would contact the Bureau of Reclamation agency when he returns to Washington, D.C.
The water issue brought forward a complaint about the proposed Grizzly Power Plant that, if approved, will operate near the Crook/Jefferson County line. Smith explained that the permitting process would decide on the merits of that proposal. "If, as a community, you don't want it, you won't have it," he said.
Speaking briefly on President Bush's energy plan, Smith said he believes a lot will be happening in the near future with alternative sources of power. "We are coming out of a time when power was cheap. It's time to move away from having to burn something to generate power, but you people," he added, pointing to those in the audience, "will have to buy the hybrid cars and the fuel cells and solar panels."
On the subject of drilling for oil on Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Smith said as far as he is concerned, the jury is still out. "I need more answers, it may be necessary but on the other hand I don't want to go into a wilderness unless we have to. As we evaluate our natural resource stewardship," he explained, "we can't forget the human stewardship."
After the Prineville meeting, Smith's schedule took him to Redmond to confer with local and regional agencies on the subject of wildland firefighting. Before the weekend was over, he also appeared on the national television debate "Crossfire."
Smith's tour through the state was part of the summer Congressional recess, when members of the nation's legislative body visit with constituents.