The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Rodger Nichols
For The Sentinel 

Gorge Commission meets in Goldendale


Rodger Nichols for The Sentinel

COMMISSION ON TOUR: Members of the Columbia Gorge Commission got a tour of areas of Klickitat County last week. At right is county commissioner Jim Sizemore.

Klickitat County and the Columbia River Gorge Commission are close to an agreement that both parties hope will help the plight of Klickitat County residents who happen to live in the National Scenic Area.

On April 8, the Gorge Commission held its monthly meeting in Goldendale for the first time in more than 20 years. After a brief welcome at the Goldendale Grange, County Commissioners treated Gorge Commissioners and staff to a tour of key sites near the city: the Windy Point/Windy Flats wind farm, the Presby Mansion Museum, and the Goldendale Observatory.

The meat of the meeting concerned a long-standing problem with processing applications for Klickitat County. When the National Scenic Area Act was passed in 1986, the six counties involved all were given a choice on whether to implement their own set of regulations covering the portion of the NSA inside their boundaries. Klickitat County was the only county that chose not to do so.

The National Scenic Area Act said if a county did not adopt their own ordinances, than every land-use application involving properties in the Scenic Area would have to come directly to the Gorge Commission. In the counties which did adopt the ordinance, such applications go to county planning departments and only get to the Gorge Commission if there is an appeal.

In recent years, though, the Gorge Commission staff has been slashed due to budget cuts in funding from the states of Oregon and Washington. In just four years, it has gone from four and a half planners down to one and a half.

That meant applications were taking longer and longer to process, and as the economy improves, that could only become more of a problem.

Last November, the Gorge Commission approached Klickitat County and asked for help, suggesting that it might be appropriate for the county to either adopt the necessary ordinances, or provide some resources to the Commission. Since then, the county has been working with the Commission to figure out a way to help. One of the the county's senior planners, Mochi Lindblad has spent a significant amount of time at the Gorge Commission office.

Commissioner Dave Sauter presented the proposal to the Commission. He said the county had taken a "long, long in-depth look at the benefits versus the liabilities" of enacting the ordinances. "That's not a viable option for us," he said. "But there are some things we can do and we are willing to put county resources into."

Sauter added that there were about 500 Klickitat County residents who live in the Scenic Area, out of about 20,000 in the county as a whole, and that passing the ordinances would help the smaller group but put the larger group at risk,

Gorge Commissioner Bowen Blair asked Sauter, "Is the county concerned that there will be spurious lawsuits filed against the county that the other five counties haven't experienced?"

"Yes, if I'm being blunt," Sauter replied. "We're not doing anything that's outside the law or outside anything reasonable, but we do seem to be a target. It's not speculation; it's based on experience. When I see the amount of time and effort that we put into it, it really upsets me because those are resources that are diverted from other things. I would rather spend it on infrastructure or more cops or better access to healthcare, rather than giving it to attorneys."

He said the county proposed assigning Lindblad to work with Klickitat County applicants. "Their point of contact would be our staff person, who would go out on site, meet with the folks, help them as they prepare their applications." Sauter said the county felt this could result in "some serious saving of time," and that he would hope that Lindblad would submit a staff report using Scenic Area guidelines that the Commission staff could use or not.

Sauter said there was precedent in the state's Water Conservancy Board, in which applicants would work with outside experts to deal with complex legal issues.

Gorge Commissioners unanimously supported drafting an interlocal agreement that would spell out the details of a pilot project that would start as soon as possible. Gorge Commission Chair Jim Middaugh asked staff to have, if possible, a draft agreement that the Commission's next meeting in May.

"If that's too soon, I think it's more important that we get this right than we rush it," he said. "We've been here 26 years and I think we can wait another month if we have to, but for those people who want to enjoy their deck in August or September, I'd like them to be able to do that."


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