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Boundary group hopes to iron out problem lines

The first of four work sessions to finally firm up gorge urban area boundaries, which have remained unclear for 28 years, is set for Wednesday, Aug. 6 in The Dalles.

It will be held at The Dalles Readiness Center on the Columbia Gorge Community College Campus and the larger general session of the meeting will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The meeting is hosted by the Gorge Commission, which hired a team of collaboration experts to guide the process along.

Some of the longest cases of litigation facing the commission have had to do with urban area boundaries. The goal is to finalize the boundaries using a process with significant public input to promote wider acceptance of the final product.

A facilitator will run the meeting to which a wide range of stakeholders are invited, including 1,200 landowners with property near urban boundaries. A professional engineer will provide technical information about the boundary surveying process.

While a large group has been invited to the morning meeting, a smaller technical subgroup will stay and continue working in the afternoon on Wednesday. It will also meet twice more, on Sept. 16 and Oct. 23, before the full group is again assembled for a final meeting on Nov. 13. All meetings are open to the public.

At the opening session, the facilitator and engineer will provide background on the process to create legal descriptions of the 13 urban area boundaries, discuss issues raised to date and propose an approach for addressing those issues and any others that arise.

The subgroup will be asked to develop an in-depth understanding of the issues and prepare recommendations for resolving them. On Nov. 13, the larger group will review the work of the subgroup and prepare a final recommendation to forward to the gorge commission.

When the 13 urban areas within the scenic area were delineated, they were drawn with a large magic marker on a smallish topographical map. The result was boundary lines that are up to several hundred feet wide in places.

The U.S. Forest Service some years ago surveyed the outer boundary of the 292,000-acre scenic area that covers six Oregon and Washington counties. A few years ago, surveyors started mapping the urban areas.

They were able to complete the legal descriptions of 90 to 95 percent of the boundaries using standard surveying practices.

But in the remaining five to 10 percent, Congress either drew the same line in different places on different maps, or there are other issues. In those cases, it’s more a policy decision and not a function of technical surveying techniques.

Those issues include whether a line should follow a stream or a road, and if so, should it follow the middle or either side of the stream or road. The problem with both is that streams and roads can change. Storms can reroute streams and property transactions can change road rights of way.

The goal is to create a clear, objective set of rules that is durable enough to contend with future changes and hopefully, reduce litigation.

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