Gorge blaze takes bite from toll revenue, senators say
The Eagle Creek wildfire burned up a significant slice of local ports' operating revenue — and two Oregon lawmakers hope the federal government will make up the difference.
The port districts of Cascade Locks and Hood River lost roughly $228,000 in combined revenue because of the human-sparked inferno, note Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.
The two Beaver State democrats want the Department of Agriculture to cover their losses using grants.
"The lost toll revenue for these communities means that many important economic development initiatives will go unmet," Wyden and Merkley said in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
Bridge of the Gods — an Oregon to Washington span in Cascade Locks — was closed for 12 days in order to keep rubberneckers and thrill-seekers away from first responders battling the blaze. Officials say the bridge missed out on tolls worth approximately $158,000.
"It means we have to prioritize more carefully and maybe put some building maintenance projects off," explained General Manager Paul Koch.
In Hood River, port authorities also waived fees for an extended period, which helped keep the wheels of commerce turning after fire officials closed Interstate 84.
The closure forced most traffic in the Columbia River Gorge to cross at the Hood River Interstate Bridge that links to White Salmon. Their loss was estimated at about $70,000.
Both port districts are nonprofit organizations that flow their toll revenue toward bridge maintenance and development proposals in their largely rural areas.
In Cascade Locks, the port operates a business park that hosts everything from Let's Truck — a radio show that sells merchandise to cross-country offroaders — to Renewal Workshop, an import reclamation business that recently expanded to 7,500 square feet.
A cidery also is planned for the business park, which is supported by the $2.5 million haul the Cascade Locks port nets annually from tolls.
"Given that both port authorities function as economic development engines for the respective rural communities," the senators wrote on Monday, Nov. 13, "we urge you to give careful consideration to the Port of Cascade Locks and the Port of Hood River to help them recover these wildfire-related economic losses."