Bills put focus on Gorge commission
Proposed bills in both the Washington and Oregon legislatures this year could put a new spotlight on the relatively low-profile Columbia River Gorge Commission.Oregon state Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, has introduced a bill that would create a bistate task force to review the Gorge commission, the National Scenic Area Act that created it, and the role the two states play in supporting its mission. The bill would only take effect if Washington lawmakers adopt their own version of the proposal. Planning to introduce a similar bill in Olympia is Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, whose district includes the western edge of the Gorge scenic area.Many Oregon lawmakers are simply unaware of what the Gorge commission does or why it was created, Huffman said. He hopes a two-state task force will help change that.“Every session, I have to go to Salem and educate folks in the governor’s office, my legislative leadership and my other colleagues,” Huffman said. “Every other year, I’m going in and advocating for funding for the commission — adequate funding, which we never seem to get.”But if it’s hard for the Gorge commission to get noticed in Salem, it’s even harder in Olympia. The tiny agency’s funding comes equally from both states, and is determined by whichever state grants a lower amount. Often, that’s Washington. Eroding support has hobbled the Gorge commission’s budget in recent years, and the agency now functions on a staff of just six people.