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Oregon senators encourage bill to complete land exchange

Mt. Hood Cooper Spur bill passes Senate committee

Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today announced progress on a bill that would help resolve the decades-long dispute over proposed land development on the northeast side of Mount Hood.POST FILE PHOTO - Efforts continue to spur long-awaited Mount Hood land exchange.

Almost six years after the Omnibus Public Lands Act was signed into law in 2009, efforts are continue on multiple fronts to make progress on its mandated land exchange between Mt. Hood Meadows and the U.S. Forest Service.

The act required the forest service to complete an exchange of 770 acres at Cooper Spur on Mount Hood, owned by Mt. Hood Meadows, for 120 Forest Service-owned acres at Government Camp, within 16 months. It was meant to end the dispute over the future of Mount Hood’s north side.

So far, the exchange has not been completed.

In September 2015, Wyden and Merkley introduced the Mt. Hood Cooper Spur Land Exchange Clarification Act which was immediately referred to committee.

“Enough is enough,” Wyden said. “It is long past time to complete the Mount Hood land exchange to ensure the protection of the pristine lands on the northeast side of the mountain and open the door for responsible development on the south side.”

On Thursday, Nov. 19, the bill, S. 2069, was passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. In addition, the committee passed a provision to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

“This bill will help preserve and promote one of Oregon’s great treasures, Mount Hood,” Merkley said. “I’m pleased to see it move forward, and I also applaud the committee for voting to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is an essential tool for preserving and creating spaces for recreation in Oregon.”

In July 2015, the Hood River Valley Residents Committee filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service for failing to complete a land exchange mandated by the 2009 act

On Sept. 30, the forest service and Mt. Hood Meadows engaged in mediation to resolve remaining terms of a Wetlands Conservation Eastment the legislation directed the forest service to reserve on the federal land to be exchanged, and came to a mutually satisfactory agreement.

According to a joint statement signed by both Mt. Hood National Forest Supervisor Lisa Northrop and Mt. Hood Meadows Chief Executive Officer Matthew Drake, “The Forest Service intends to incorporate the Wetland Conservation Easement as part of the proposed action to be addressed in the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis of the exchange transaction.

“The forest service and Mt. Hood Meadows will work cooperatively to resolve any revisions to the Wetland Conservation Easement arising from the agency’s NEPA review.”

Laura Pramuk, public affairs officer for the Mt. Hood National Forest, said in an email the forest service does not comment on pending legislation.

“However, the forest service remains committed to the process to accomplish the land exchange as prescribed in the 2009 legislation,” she added. “Land Exchanges are extremely complicated processes with many rules and regulations, and the USFS must follow all applicable laws.”