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U.S Congressman Greg Walden`s Oregon Congressional Connection

including, Preventing an 11th hour snag on a Klamath irrigation project


Because of the economic downturn, small businesses and families nationwide are finding ways to stretch their dollars further than ever before. Taxpayers should expect the same kind of commitment from their government, be it on the local, state, or federal level.

In 2007 and 2008, FEMA awarded Deschutes County with grants to help treat the region’s chronically unhealthy and overstocked non-federal forests.

To conserve taxpayer resources while treating as many acres as possible, the county allowed private landowners to clear their own private lots of fire-prone forest material and deposit the debris in communal drop spots. Rather than traveling to a far greater number of individual lots, county subcontractors were able to remove the debris from the communal drop spots. The costs savings allowed the county to treat more than 5,000 acres.

Since receiving the funding, the county submitted quarterly progress reports to FEMA outlining their strategies and progress. At no point for more than two years did FEMA object to the county’s work. Yet, all of a sudden in September 2010, FEMA informed the county that it would seek reimbursement for work “completed outside the project area.”

FEMA took the position that the private lots were not subject to proper environmental review before treatment. Deschutes County, however, documented the environmental review prior to receiving the grants. In fact, FEMA even referenced these lands in the county’s environmental review in its own Environmental Assessment!

Here’s the crux of what I told FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate in a letter last week: Deschutes County shouldn’t be punished for being careful with taxpayer dollars. The county should be commended for being careful with the public’s hard-earned money; instead, FEMA is seeking to punish them for outside-the-box thinking.

This is exactly the kind of bureaucratic thinking that makes taxpayers lose faith in their government agencies.

My office participated in a meeting this week in the nation’s capital attended by FEMA officials, Deschutes County Commissioner Tammy Baney, Deschutes County Forester Joe Stutler, and representatives from Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. We need to get this ironed out. One of the side effects of FEMA’s new objections is a holdup of work waiting to be done in Crook and Klamath counties. More talks are scheduled for this week in Oregon. I’ll keep you posted.

Preventing an 11th hour snag on a Klamath irrigation project

It’s one of those projects that hits all the right notes. Klamath Irrigation District (KID) is investing $2 million in a small-scale hydroelectric facility that would create up to 18 jobs, 3,000 MWH of clean power annually, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenues every year.

But it almost hit a fatal snag this month.

Last year, KID received all the necessary state and federal agency approvals for the project after no objections were raised during public comment periods. Construction began in December on the hydroelectric facility at the “C-Drop,” where water from the A Canal spills into the C Canal. The project enjoys widespread support from organizations like the Oregon Energy Trust, the Klamath Tribes, and the Klamath Water Users Association.

But at the 11th hour and long after the public comment period had closed, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) released a letter on December 29, 2011 that proposed construction of a fish screen at the C-Drop. Such a mandate, which would cost millions of dollars, would delay the project indefinitely, effectively killing it and sinking the investment already made by KID.

A study performed last year by the Bureau of Reclamation already found that the project would not result in any significant impacts to wildlife, including protected fish species. That’s because a fish screen already exists on the A Canal. In other words, a multi-million dollar fish screen on the C-Drop would be redundant and, ultimately, a waste of money.

After learning of BIA’s letter, my office inquired with the federal agencies involved about the last-minute threat to this popular job-creating clean energy project. Good news: KID received notice that BIA has dropped the concerns and construction could continue as planned.

Here’s what KID Manager Mike Stuntebeck said: “The Klamath Irrigation District can now again concentrate on the business at hand: completion of our hydro project and preparing for delivery of irrigation water that soon will also be able to produce clean power and revenues to the District.”

These are the kinds of projects that everyone should be able to get behind.

Bipartisan support for forest landscape restoration projects in Lake, Grant, Harney counties

Last week I organized a bipartisan letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack that expresses strong support for funding two job-creating and large-scale forest restoration projects in the Second District – one in the Lake County area and the other in Grant and Harney counties.

In addition to me, the letter was signed by Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader, and Earl Blumenauer.

The “Lakeview Stewardship Landscape” and “Southern Blues Restoration Coalition” collaborative forest landscape restoration program (CFLRP) project proposals were reviewed and ranked by the CFLRP Advisory Committee as the top two proposals in the country. The Lakeview proposal includes 150,000 acres to be treated, and estimates it will create more than 80 jobs. The Southern Blues proposal includes 271,980 acres to be treated, and estimates it will create more than 150 new jobs.

These two projects encourage collaboration, economic growth, and large-scale forest health projects. In addition, they will reduce wildfire management costs and create a predictable supply of forest byproducts to stabilize local communities and infrastructure.

Best of all, they will create and sustain jobs in areas of historically high unemployment. We need jobs in these rural communities. Hopefully Secretary Vilsack follows the advisory committee’s recommendations.

Here’s what Harney County Judge Steve Grasty said: “Harney County needs the jobs and forest resource production that will result from the large-scale work proposed by the Southern Blues Restoration project. The collaborative efforts behind this project are made up of diverse members who have come together to prioritize job creation and the need to improve the health of our federal forests. This project will actually lead to work and expand what has already been accomplished on a landscape scale.”

Here’s what Lake County Commissioner Dan Shoun said: “Congress has done its job, now Secretary Vilsack must do his by selecting these projects. The federal land managers in Lake County are ready, pen-in-hand, to sign task orders on already pre-approved projects that will create jobs once the Lakeview Stewardship Landscape proposal is selected. These jobs and the timber production look to stimulate new businesses and create even more jobs. This is exactly what has been needed to guarantee our forest and community health.”

Helping Oregonians overcome obstacles in the federal government

The IRS maintains an online publication of organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. You can check it out at www.irs.gov/charities.

One Bend-area nonprofit that helps fight hunger in central Oregon (they provided thousands of meals last year alone) had missed opportunities to apply for several grants because the IRS had failed to update the online directory that community foundations use to verify their 501c3 status. After working with the non-profit, we learned last week that the IRS had finally listed it in its online addendum. We’ll continue to watch it to make sure it’s in the full update released shortly this year.

Part of my job is helping Oregonians overcome obstacles in their dealings with agencies of the federal government. If I can ever be of assistance to you, please don’t hesitate to contact any of my offices listed at the bottom of this email.

That’s all for now. Have a great week.

Best regards,
Greg Walden
U.S. Representative
Oregon’s Second District

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              Page Updated: Thursday January 19, 2012 03:40 AM  Pacific

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