Last-minute politicking in U.S. House leaves park expansion in Senate's hands

Just as there were those in Congress who once found ridiculous President Thomas Jefferson's idea of a cross-continental exploring expedition, today there remain some who oppose expanding Ft. Clatsop National Memorial.

U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor, R-N.C., chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies, recently forwarded legislation to the full House that includes none of the $6.25 million President Bush requested to add a land corridor between the fort and the Pacific.

These funds, along with $1.5 million already authorized for Lewis and Clark's 1805-06 winter campsite, are needed to complete the Oregon component of a proposed bi-state Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. (Addition of Pacific County sites and associated funds are set to follow final agreement on Oregon-side expansion funding.)

Taylor, philosophically opposed to increasing federal land holdings, has thus put the ball in the U.S. Senate's court, a troubling bit of news.

But a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith said the senator is working closely with Democratic colleague Ron Wyden and other members of the Northwest congressional delegation to keep expansion plans alive. Despite Taylor's games, Smith remains "very hopeful" the Senate and a following conference committee with the House will approve the legislation in this year's abbreviated session. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray is a member of the crucial Senate committee taking up the issue.

The Bush administration continues to support Ft. Clatsop expansion, placing in second on its list of priorities for park lands. Smith's office says he is working to bring the president here to the Northwest to sign the bill, if all ultimately goes well.

It's important to note that park expansions are not funded from general tax revenues, but from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, administration of which remains an open scandal. Funded with royalties from federal oil, gas and mineral leases, the conservation funds is firmly earmarked for land purchases.

Notwithstanding a promise to use the full annual maximum of $900 million, the administration's Interior budget request is for just $140 million, the unspent remainder cosmetically beautifying our nation's ballooning budget deficit.

The administration as a whole largely shares Taylor's view that federal lands are meant for exploitation, not conservation, but the patriotic politics of Lewis and Clark are nearly irresistible. President Bush and his re-election strategists would love to have this opportunity to trumpet an attractive park project before this November.

Politics or not, it's important to our region and the historical legacy of our nation to tie all the dangling ends together as soon as possible, with luck in time for our area's Lewis and Clark Signature Event in November 2005.

But if worse comes to worse, completion in 2006 will be no disaster, so long as we all maintain our sense of momentum and our vision of Pacific and Clatsop counties as the pot of gold at the end of Lewis and Clark's rainbow.

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