House approves Walden measure to complete eight-year land exchange process in Oregon

Legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) to ensure completion of a locally supported land exchange between the United States and Oregon that has been in flux for nearly eight years cleared the House on Monday in a vote of 415 to 1.

The Mount Hood Cooper Spur Land Exchange Clarification Act, H.R. 699, would complete a land exchange between Oregon and the U.S. Forest Service that allows for the development of 107 acres on the northeast side of Mount Hood and the protection of an additional 770 acres in the region.

In his floor remarks, Walden noted the land exchange battle had been ongoing since the 1970s when community members came together and said they did not want a lot of development near the pristine area of the Crystal Springs watershed around the Hood River upper valley.

In 2009, all sides reached an agreement on a land exchange that was outlined in Public Law 111-11, which set a deadline for completion of “not later than 16 months after the date of enactment of this act.”

Eight years later, Walden said, the land exchange was still languishing and lawmakers are back trying to advance the measure again, “because we are never going to quit until we are done.”

Walden continued, “It is important to protect this watershed. It is important that where development occurs, it occurs in the right places. We have always felt that way in Oregon. And, indeed, facilitating this exchange resolves a decades-long controversy and puts development where it belongs, protects a special area in the upper Hood River Valley that needs protection, and finally brings certainty and resolution.”

The land exchange would protect the water source for the City of Hood River and the upper Hood River Valley and would promote economic growth and jobs in the area, Walden added.

The Mount Hood Cooper Spur Land Exchange Clarification Act would amend the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, setting a new land exchange deadline of within one year of the bill’s enactment.

The measure would also revise additional details of the land exchange, including conveyance conditions of a conservation easement to protect wetland, reservation of a non-exclusive trail easement, and equalization values of the exchanged properties.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, called the lengthy land exchange process “ridiculous.”

“I’m happy we passed this bill for communities around Mount Hood, but there are countless others throughout the West waiting for relief,” Bishop said. “With a new Congress and a new administration, it’s time for a new approach to federal land management.”