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Hood River group sues Forest Service for land-use resolution

Suit concerns failure of land exchange north of Mount Hood

Hood River residents are seeking the conclusion of a decade-long struggle to protect the north side of Mount Hood.

On Monday, July 27, 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 Omnibus Public Lands Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 2009.

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

Cooper Spur, where Mt. Hood Meadows made several controversial attempts to place large resorts, includes the Crystal Springs watershed, parts of which would be added to the Mount Hood Wilderness area of the Mt. Hood National Forest if exchanged. The Government Camp properties are already zoned for extensive development.CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: DARRYL LLOYD - The Hood River Valley Residents Committee seeks a resolution to the exchange of Mount Hood lands mandated by a 2009 law, that would help preserve wilderness on the north side of Mount Hood.

“There is a law on the books to complete this exchange, and the Forest Service has failed to meet its terms,” said Mike McCarthy, a board member for the Hood River Valley Residents Committee.

The committee, a land-use advocacy organization, and its members have participated in the numerous hearings and meetings on the proposed solution for the north side. “Over a decade ago, the environmental community, recreation clubs, local residents, Hood River County, Mt. Hood Meadows and our congressional delegation put together a historic solution to protect thousands of acres of wilderness lands and a drinking watershed on the north side at Cooper Spur,” said Heather Staten, Hood River Valley Residents Committee executive director. “This historic solution was put into the Mount Hood Wilderness bill and signed by the President in 2009. The land exchange resolved a three decade-old dispute, and the future of the north side is contingent on the Forest Service completing it.”

More than six years after President Obama signed the act into law, the Hood River Valley Residents Committee filed the lawsuit seeking a judgment that the Forest Service allegedly “has unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed agency action mandated by Congress and an injunction ordering the Forest Service to complete the Government Camp/Cooper Spur land trade in a prompt fashion,” read the case filed with the United States District Court.

“We don’t enter litigation lightly, but five years late is egregious,” McCarthy said. “We cannot afford to sit idly by and let the forest service run this into the ground through inaction and abuse of their agency.”

“The Forest Service was directed to complete this trade in 16 months, but instead of doing their job as directed they have acted beyond their legislative authority and sought to impose unreasonable conditions that threaten this historic solution,” said Ralph Bloemers, attorney for the plaintiffs.

Oregon’s congressmen also have weight in with complaints. In June, Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Earl Blumenauer sent a joint letter to forest service Chief Tom Tidwell urging him to complete the trade.

“We call upon the agency to complete the remaining components of the land exchange within one year from the date of this letter in order to avoid further noncompliance with the statutory deadline and the further frustration of the intent of the 2009 Act,” read the letter. “Let’s bring this nearly five year delayed land exchange to a close; any further delay is absolutely unacceptable.”

The Forest Service is unable to comment on any pending litigation. However, the agency intends to release a fact sheet about the land exchange in the near future.