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Gorge to get ‘deep dive’ review

The Oregon Legislature has given the Gorge Commission an $80,000 grant to tackle a pressing issue, particularly for The Dalles: establishing a policy for urban area expansion.

It’s not enough money to finish the job, but it will get it underway.

Helping the Gorge Commission is Oregon Consensus, Oregon’s official program for public policy consensus building, and its Washington counterpart, the William D. Ruckelshaus Center.

The first step is to do a “deep dive assessment” of the issues by conducting interviews with interested parties, Turner Odell, of Oregon Consensus, told the Gorge Commission in October.

That assessment has to happen before a group can convene to work with the gorge commission and staff on helping develop an urban area policy.

The Dalles has been working for years on making a case to justify an expansion of its urban boundary. The problem is the Gorge Commission hasn’t had the resources to undertake a review of any such request.

The commission wants to create a standard set of criteria for considering expansion requests.

There are 13 urban areas in the six-county Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The boundaries of those urban areas can only be expanded with Gorge Commission approval.

The particulars of what that policy-advising group will look like are still to be determined. Oregon Consensus and the Ruchelshaus Center are working “to carefully structure” probably 80 in-depth interviews and then conduct the analysis on the back end of those interviews, said Gorge Commission Executive Director Darren Nichols.

“The purpose of this process is to identify common ground, common interests and shared interests to work together collaboratively,” Nichols said.

“Before you can call a meeting and bring everybody together around the table, it pays, with interest, to do the homework first and make sure you’re setting the table in a constructive way. It means going and talking to a lot of people,” Odell said.

He expects the interviews to take place in January and February and the analysis of them should be done by spring, Odell said.

Oregon Consensus will spend considerable time formulating questions that will generate the best information, and deciding which stakeholders, both individuals and organizations, to interview, making sure that they get the broadest possible representations and that they include the most affected stakeholders, Nichols said.

It is expected that the $80,000 grant will pay for the design of the process, the interviews, and the analysis of the interview results, he said. Analysis includes organizing what comes out of the interviews and trying to pull out themes in terms of what people want to talk about. Organizing the actual consensus-building process, which would happen after the interviews and analysis, would include determining the order in which to address issues, Odell said.

Oregon Consensus and the Ruckelshaus Center will do background research before the interviews to ask the best questions possible, Odell said.

“We haven’t begun to fashion either the interview list or the interview protocol,” he said.

That will begin once Oregon Consensus has a signed contract with the Gorge Commission. Meanwhile, the Gorge Commission has to formally go through the process of getting the grant from Oregon’s Department of Land Conservation and Development.

Odell’s own background is as an attorney, and he said he eventually had a realization that “I was getting more stuff done when I was working collaboratively with folks rather than suing them.”

With collaborative efforts, he found he got better, more durable results “because nobody is a loser and trying to undermine it from the get-go. That’s one of the fundamental benefits of collaborative solutions.”

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