Wallace Bridge project needs support from political leaders

Oregon’s top political leaders need to climb aboard in strong support of the vision for a world-class equestrian resort at Wallace Bridge.

First, the governor’s office should proclaim the project’s importance for Oregon economic development. And our congressional delegation — Sen. Wyden, Sen. Schrader, Rep. Bonamici and others – should represent Oregon interests by engaging the federal bureaucracy blocking this unique plan.

Property near the junction of Highways 18 and 22 meets a broad array of requirements for such a development. There are no alternative sites; there is only the good fortune of having a perfect location: a passionate, well-fixed developer; a vision consistent with Oregon’s cautious land use regulations; and support growing from all directions.

So what’s the problem? The National Resources Conservation Service controls a conservation easement on approximately 170 acres of the property. That federal agency naturally wants to protect its holdings, but why, we join others in asking, is it rejecting a trade for something better?

Carlton LLC, the developer represented by J.W. Millegan, offers to replace portions of that easement with increased acreage, more wetlands and greater environmental assets. So far, it’s not enough for the NRCS.

The appeal continues in a July 11 telephone meeting involving Millegan, botanists, representatives of the NRCS and a hearings judge with the power to order a full review by the federal agency of issues related to the easement modification request.

Sen. Kurt Schrader and U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici support a fair hearing, but before July 11, they both should wade in with strong backing for the project. They need to bolster the Carlton LLC arguments that Wallace Bridge meets NRCS requirements for an easement modification: provide equal or greater environmental and economic values, and address a compelling public need.

In its October 2012 denial, the NRCS said, “ … the modification will not facilitate the practical administration of the easement area … there is no compelling need to modify the easement boundary.”

Yamhill, Polk, Tillamook, Clackamas and Marion counties all think otherwise. Carlton LLC has compiled an impressive list of supporters, and there is international interest in what could be one of the world’s finest equestrian centers and an economic boon to this region.

The NRCS can continue to claim its sole responsibility is to protect the original easement. Or, it can recognize that in this case, its environmental interests coincide with the public interest in an easement modification.

For the latter to occur, our elected officials must intervene.

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