Congressman Greg Walden discussed the bill during a round table meeting with local business owners this week

by: RAMONA MCCALLISTER/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - FROM LEFT: Holli Van Wert, Congressman Greg Walden, Ken Fahlgren, and Seth Crawford

When Congressman Greg Walden sat down with Prineville business owners this week, he stressed that the three big national issues right now are the debt ceiling, government funding, and the Farm Bill.
   The round table meeting was organized by Prineville-Crook County Chamber Director Holli Van Wert, and other topics included Walden’s Bowman Dam legislation, his forest legislation, the economy, and the effects of these issues on the local economy.
   Walden commented that he doesn’t anticipate a lot of roadblocks to his current Bowman legislation.
   “I actually feel really good about it,” he said. “The community is very supportive of what we are doing. We just passed it once unanimously in the House, and we just passed it again without objection in the House Resources Committee. Its bipartisan support then and now, and we hope to get it across the House floor this fall early. It should not be that difficult to get through the Senate. We are going to continue to do everything we can to figure out how to get that done.”
   Walden said that he has had a great deal of help moving the legislation forward from Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore), who is currently the top democrat on the resource committee.
   Walden discussed his forest health legislation, and he began by pointing out the smoke in the air.
   “It’s time to change forest policy, it’s time to get people back to work in the woods, it’s time to be better stewards of our forest, and make them healthier and more fire-resilient.”
   He noted that they have bi-partisan legislation, and he believes that they will have a large bi-partisan vote in September on the floor.
   In Oregon, there are forestlands that are under a separate statute, because they were reclaimed from the Oregon-California Railroad (O and C). So they don’t fall under the traditional sort of forest management, but are under statute to manage for forest production for timber harvest.
   “We take half of those lands and put them in a trust, and manage them under state law to generate revenue and jobs and activity on those forest lands that remain — about 1 million-and-a-half acres,” explained Walden.
   He noted, however, that this part of the bill impacted mostly western Oregon counties. He quickly pointed out that the other part of the bill would provide processes to treat federal forest lands across the country to reduce the threat of fire, and set up similar trusts (as O and C lands) on forest land that is identified for harvest. He is expecting a vote on it in September.
   Walden also commented that there are a lot of differences between the private and federal management of the forestlands, including management after fires.
   “As an Oregonian, I want good, green, healthy forests.”
   City of Prineville manager Steve Forrester commented that he believes that forest health will also need to include the removal of unhealthy timber, and not just marketable timber. He stressed that the timber industry and biomass industries will need to work hand in hand, and they are definitely connected.
   “We are really pushing hard to get a rebirth of that primary industry,” said Forrester.
   Walden pointed out that in a lot of these kinds of industries, you need all the pieces to work collaboratively. He emphasized that you need supply, and that the federal system is littered with litigation and appeals and nothing gets done.
   “All the money gets sucked up from the paperwork and the courts — and that has to change.”
   Walden said that right now is the window of time to get things done, with an election year coming up. He indicated that we are well-poised to deal with these issues in the northwest, with Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) as Republican Chairman of the House Resources Committee from Yakima, Wash., DeFazio is top Democrat on the committee, and Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) represents the Senate on the committee.
   Pat Lenahan, financial advisor for Edward Jones, asked why the Bowman Legislation wasn’t taken up by the Senate during the previous legislative session. Walden replied that there are some environmental groups who want provisions in the legislation, including full allocation of the remaining water in the Prineville reservoir. He said there is also a debate about what the water year looks like.
   “You move that calendar around, and you could end up shorting the farmers. The last thing I’m going to stand for is to create another water crisis in another basin in our state like we have dealt with, including the Klamath Basin.”
   Businessmen Don Wood commented that there is a lot of concern about projected numbers for unemployment and inflation, which he alleges are misrepresented.
   “Our economy is not coming back like it needs to come back,” Walden said.
   He recently came back from talking to Bend residents about healthcare and what the changes will mean for their businesses. He added that he is running into a lot of small business owners who are reporting that they are keeping their business under 50 employees because of the upcoming employer mandate.
   “There are consequences starting to play out. We will see what the insurance rates are, but I fear that they are going to spike for many, and come down for a few.”
   Crestview Cable Manager Mike O’Herron inquired about what items that Congressman Walden saw as front and center on a national basis for the remainder of the congressional session.
   Mayor Roppe added, “Can I ask you a hard one? What about the budget?”
   Walden noted that revenues are up and spending is down, and the deficit is down to approximately $646 billion.
   “Which is still an extraordinary number.”
   He pointed out there will still be a need to go and borrow that much to get things back on the right track. Walden added that he didn’t think we would want to default on our debt, and the consequences would be far-reaching. He also cautioned against advocating a government shutdown on various programs.
   “You have to ask if you’re shutting down the government. Are you really? Because that means that some pretty essential services and personnel aren’t going to get paid, and not be able to do their jobs.”
   He added that they also need to act on the Farm Bill.
   “Those are kind of the three big issues — the debt ceiling, government funding, and the Farm Bill.”
   Roppe, County Commissioner Ken Fahlgren, and Dean Noyes gave updates on some of the local projects, including the Bond passage for the new elementary school, as well as the construction for the new St. Charles hospital facility. Fahlgren gave an update on the construction of Project Pillar.

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