The Gorge Commission will finally check something off its to-do list that has been languishing there for nearly 30 years: Defining the boundaries of the 13 urban areas in the scenic area.
The original boundaries of the 292,000-acre Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, and the 13 communities in it, were famously drawn with a felt marker on a small map.
The result was a boundary line so thick that in places, it was 200 to 300 feet wide.
The exterior boundary was more quickly and easily settled. Then, a few years ago the commission got most of the urban area boundaries surveyed, but a few prickly spots defied normal surveying techniques, and required policy direction from the commission.
A technical committee met, and the issues were so contentious that full agreement was reached on only one of about six matters, recounted Rodger Nichols, a gorge commissioner representing Wasco County who sat on the committee.
That lone agreement was on boundaries along the Columbia River, and 11 of the 13 urban areas are on the water. The consensus was to use the water line that was in existence in 1986, when the scenic area act passed in Congress, he said.
Other questions, like whether a boundary line should be drawn down the middle of a road or power line or on either side, was not settled, “because there was massive disagreement among the factions,” Nichols said.
But, what helped nudge the matter into finality was the arrival of the Gorge Commission’s new executive director, Krystyna Wolniakowski.
She met with her counterpart in the U.S. Forest Service, “and they agreed on a whole bunch of these to nail them down,” Nichols said.
Nichols said the matter passed 10-2 at the March gorge commission meeting, and he was “a reluctant ‘yes’ because from my point of view, the Forest Service vision prevailed over viewpoints of members of the commission. But in order to advance the prospect of nailing all this down to where maybe we can look at urban area expansion as a possibility, then most people voted in favor.”
The final surveying work began this month and will be finished by June 30.
The compromise agreement on roads – to have the boundary line down the middle – “is bizarre to me,” Nichols said, because it meant someone working on the road could have two sets of rules to comply with: city rules and scenic area rules.
The compromise was that the commission will address that and other boundary issues when it does its periodic review of its management plan.
Gorge Commissioner Dan Ericksen, of The Dalles was one of two commissioners to vote against the proposal to finalize the surveying work.
He actually supported the move and his vote was “more of a flag” to “make sure we address it in the future.”
He is satisfied that the commission will address the issue during management plan review.
Also kicked down the road to an eventual management plan adjustment was the matter of where the urban boundary line goes through a home.
“In a sense, it’s trust that those modifications will be made in the [management plan update] process,” Nichols said.
In The Dalles, just a few spots on its urban area boundary have a question mark, said The Dalles Planning Director Dick Gassman.
One spot, affecting about 12 to 15 lots on the southern end of Dry Hollow Road, is not only inside city limits, but also inside the national scenic area and inside the state-drawn urban growth boundary.
“They’ve hit the trifecta,” Gassman said.
What it means is property owners there cannot subdivide their lots.
The other area is on Sterling Drive, which is off the southern end of Pomona Street, nestled against the cliffs at the southern edge of the city. There, the scenic area line “kind of wanders in and out of the urban growth boundary line,” Gassman said.
“It’s not that important because a lot of that land isn’t developable anyway, but we would be able to get some lots out of it,” he said.