The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Neita Cecil
Gorge News Reports 

County gets on board with gorge commission


In a historic agreement—nearly 18 months in the making—Klickitat County will devote planning staff time to help the Gorge Commission process land use applications within its borders.

A Klickitat County planner will spend at least one day a week at the commission’s White Salmon office to process applications and devote more time to applications at the county’s Goldendale planning office, Klickitat County Commissioner Dave Sauter told the commission at its meeting Feb. 10 in The Dalles.

“We have seen the impact of the [commission] staffing levels as they exist now and their ability to process the permits,” Sauter said. There are actually “significant impacts to economic development” in the county, he said.

“This doesn’t solve everything, it is a first step,” he said.

Klickitat County has long maintained the most resistance of the six Gorge counties to the scenic area land use regulations. It is the only county to not adopt its own rules for developments in the federally-protected Gorge corridor. Consequently, land use applications within the scenic area in Klickitat County have been handled by the Gorge commission.

The commission started experiencing deep staffing cuts in 2009, eventually dropping from 4.5 planners to 1.6, but the recession also slowed applications to a trickle. Even so, by 2013, there was a year-long backlog for getting permits.

The recession ended and the applications started to flow again, but staffing hasn’t increased.

The wait time has crept up to about 18 months, and the amount of applications has grown significantly, from about 12 in the queue in September 2013, to 37 today, Gorge Commission Executive Director Darren Nichols said.

Gorge Commissioner Bowen Blair, an Oregon governor appointee from Portland, said of Klickitat’s decison, “I think it’s a real step forward.” He hoped more changes were coming.

At earlier meetings, Sauter has cautioned hopeful Gorge commissioners to not expect the next step to be Klickitat County adopting its own land use rules. He said that possibility was very much off the table.

Sauter told The Dalles Chronicle he expects up to half of Klickitat planners’ time to be spent on the permit backlog. He understands there is some flexibility on which permits will be tackled and in what order.

One concern has been whether the easiest ones would be done first, or the oldest ones. He understands it will be a mix.

Several commissioners thanked Klickitat County and Sauter for making the agreement happen.

Gorge Commissioner Carl McNew, representing Klickitat County, said the agreement would not have happened without Sauter. “I can’t thank you enough. It’s a big deal.”

Echoing how much of an impact the permit backlog has had, Gorge Commissioner Lorrie DeKay, a Washington governor appointee from White Salmon, said it was one of the reasons she became interested in joining the commission.

The Gorge commission first approached Klickitat County in September 2013, asking for help to process land use applications.


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