Wild and scenic rivers

Oregon’s 68 current wild and scenic rivers.

LA GRANDE, Ore. — The Union County Board of Commissioners wants no part of the River Democracy Act.

The trio voted Oct. 6 to send a letter to Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden asking him to remove all of the waterways in Union County that are included in the proposed federal River Democracy Act legislation. The letter was signed by Union County Commissioners Paul Anderes, Donna Beverage and Matt Scarfo.

The bill, co-sponsored by Wyden and fellow Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, would add 4,684 miles to the Wild and Scenic River system in Oregon, including 135 miles in Union County.

The 135 miles would be on 26 waterways, the largest of which is an 11.6-mile stretch of Beaver Creek and a 10.8-mile stretch of Five Points Creek.

In the letter to Wyden the commissioners wrote they are making their request based several criteria. One, the commissioners claim, is that the traditional process for considering waterways for Wild and Scenic designation, one which includes extensive public input, has not been adhered to.

“This failure to follow the guidelines that have been in place since 1968 as a well-vetted system for designation is resulting in waterways that do not meet the criteria, spirit, intent or letter of the Wild and Scenic Act,” states the letter, which Anderes read at the Oct. 6 meeting.

The commissioners’ letter also stated their concern that the federal government failed to hold pubic meetings in communities that would be impacted by the addition of the waterways to the Wild and Scenic designation. In lieu of such meetings, at least one Statewide People’s Town Hall was conducted virtually, which was not not a good substitute for localized community meetings, according to the letter.

Another concern expressed by the Union County commissioners is the half-mile buffer zone each proposed waterway would have on both sides of its banks.

Restrictions on activities in the buffer zones, including logging to reduce fire hazards, might be imposed. This would affect 86,000 acres of Union County land that would be in the buffer zones along the 26 waterways proposed for inclusion in the River Democracy Act.

“I do not want to put 86,000 acres under federal jurisdiction,” Beverage said.

The letter noted there are a number of projects now underway where the buffer zones would be, ones designed to protect and restore the waterways and their banks, which could be derailed by the River Democracy Act.

Beverage wants the process of selecting additional Oregon waterways for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic Act to be started over in order to conduct it in a way that would include greater public input.

She said that if this is not done, the next best option would be for officials to delete all of the 26 Union County waterways proposed for inclusion in the River Democracy Act.

The commissioner noted that some Oregon counties have succeeded in getting certain river and stream sections proposed for Wild and Scenic designation removed from the list following a negotiating process.

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Dick Mason is a reporter with The Observer primarily covering the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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