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Hyde taking reins of O&C group

Longtime president resigns; position passes to VP


by: SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Tony Hyde.A longtime county commissioner in Douglas County is resigning his seat and relinquishing his position as president of the Association of O&C Counties at the end of the month.

Under the bylaws of the association, a grouping of counties that contain Oregon and California Railroad Revested Lands — more commonly known as O&C lands — that means the vice president takes over the top job. The vice president is Tony Hyde, chairman of the Columbia County Board of Commissioners.

Hyde announced his ascension to the presidency of the association Wednesday, June 25, at a Board of Commissioners meeting.

“It’s an organization, and as president, I’ll be at the helm of that organization,” Hyde said after the meeting. He said the president sets the agenda for the association.

Hyde hailed outgoing association President Doug Robertson, who has sat on the Douglas County Board of Commissioners since 1981, calling him “the foremost historian and advocate for O&C issues.”

Seventeen counties in Oregon have O&C lands within their borders. The 2.6 million acres are managed by the Bureau of Land Management as federal timberlands. Historically, the timber harvest on the O&C lands generated money for the counties, but revenues have declined since 1989 and Congress has been reluctant to continue the annual payments to O&C counties.

The lands are named for the now-defunct Oregon and California Railroad, which owned them before the federal government took them over about a century ago.

Dueling proposals for how to restart the harvesting of timber on the O&C lands are currently before Congress. A bill pushed by three Oregon congressmen passed the House of Representatives last year, but President Barack Obama threatened a veto and the Senate has not taken up the legislation. Another bill has been introduced by powerful Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, but it has not yet been put to a vote.

Hyde said the association has been in steady contact with members of Congress and their staff regarding the O&C proposals. Despite the appearance of a congressional stalemate, he added that he is “very hopeful” Congress will pass legislation to definitively address the issue either in this legislative session or the next one, which will begin in 2015.

“That’s what we’re looking for, is certainty,” said Hyde. “Living hand-to-mouth is not acceptable. Living off the Treasury is not acceptable. Frankly, we want to see our timber economies come back. We don’t expect them to come back to the heyday of the ‘70s and ‘80s — we get that. And there’s going to have to be give-and-take on both sides.”

Hyde said the amount Columbia County has received in yearly revenue from the O&C lands has dropped from more than $2 million in the 1980s to nothing in the coming fiscal year, as a one-year extension of payments under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act is set to expire.

Much of Hyde’s work as president of the association will involve pushing members of Congress to act, he indicated.

Hyde has been on the executive board of the association for more than a decade, serving as vice president for much of that time.