Rural Ore. counties fear timber payment loss


Rural Ore. counties fear timber payment loss


by Wayne Havrelly, KGW Staff

Posted on March 18, 2012 at 5:22 PM

Updated Sunday, Mar 18 at 7:32 PM

PORTLAND -- Rural counties around Oregon have received their last federal timber payments, unless the U.S. House of Representatives approves an extension that has already passed the Senate.

Without that extension, thousands of Oregonians could lose their jobs.

The economic times are already tough in places like Columbia County, where the courthouse is only open four days a week.

“That's with the timber payments,” said Columbia Co. Commissioner Tony Hyde. “Without the timber payments the dire budget we've created is not something I want to face.”

If the payments stop, many county governments could quickly get overwhelmed.

For nearly a century, rural counties with federal forest lands received timber payments to help with law enforcement, schools and roads. Over the past decade it's become an ongoing battle to keep that money flowing.

Last week, Oregon U.S. Senator Ron Wyden's bill to extend payments for another year passed the Senate, and now it's up to the House.

“If the House of Representatives doesn't do its job, what this means for Oregon is less law enforcement, reduced road maintenance and fewer quality teachers in our classrooms,” Wyden said Sunday.

“A number of counties may declare bankruptcy,” Oregon U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley added.

Oregon State University researchers estimated that without the timber payments, the state could lose between 3,800 and 4,400 direct jobs, costing the Oregon economy hundreds of millions of dollars.

”Any time you cut funding,” said St. Helens resident Gene Northway, “it's going to hurt law enforcement, schools and many programs.”

Hyde said Columbia Co. is covering 600 square miles with two deputies, losing the money could mean they’ll lose those positions.

Many say the long term solution is to get more people back working in the woods, but until that happens the very existence of many rural communities just might rest in the hands of congress.

“A lot of those communities are telling us they won't be around in order to have the longer-term debate,” Wyden said.

Wyden’s extension passed the Senate with 82 votes.