Says county commissioners have 'serious and unanswered concerns'; Wyden disputes claims
WASHINGTON - Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ore., took to the House floor Tuesday to voice his opposition to S. 192, the River Democracy Act, introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., which he claimed would leave 4.700 miles of newly designated Wild and Scenic waterways "waiting to be burned and ruined."
Bentz cited several concerns with the legislation raised by county commissioners in his mostly rural district. The most dire concern they cited, he said, was the level of bureaucracy the bill would place on areas already at risk of wildfire, thereby preventing the treatments necessary to protect watersheds and, ultimately, human lives.
"If passed, this bill would label some 4,700 miles of Oregon rivers, creeks, and streams as 'Wild and Scenic,' although a more appropriate phrase would be: 'just waiting to be burned and ruined," said Bentz. "The overwhelming majority of my 62 county commissioners have serious and unanswered concerns about the dangers the act presents. Chief among them is that this designation will prevent what needs to be done to protect these watersheds – placing them in a bureaucratic wasteland where it will take years, if not decades, to initiate and then complete plans that may or may not allow the treatment activities needed right now."
A news release from his office said Bentz also mentioned several other concerns with the legislation, ranging from inadequate local input in the bill's creation and the doubling in size of existing wild and scenic corridors to the lack of protections for sustainable use of the land surrounding the watersheds.
This is not the first time Bentz voiced his district's concerns with the River Democracy Act. In November, Bentz sent a letter to 62 county commissioners across Oregon's Second Congressional District detailing the concerns he had heard from many of the commissioners.
Asked for a response, Wyden's office provided this statement Wednesday to NewsChannel 21:
"Sadly, it appears Congressman Bentz has not read Senator Wyden’s River Democracy Act. The bill text clearly states how wildfire management would be strengthened and increased. Specifically, the bill requires the agencies implement a fire risk reduction plan across a half-mile corridor on either side of the river. The proposal does nothing to impede the ability to fight fires. In fact, it requires land managers to take proactive steps to reduce wildfire risks to homes and businesses, and make these rivers safety corridors.
"Senator Wyden remains committed to working with individual Oregonians who want to make constructive suggestions in good faith. That’s what he’s been doing for more than two years, through multiple levels of outreach, including public open-to-all meetings, dozens of one-on-one staff meetings with county commissioners, along with requests for comment from the Association of Oregon Counties before the legislation was introduced.
"Congressman Bentz should have the same level of commitment to his constituents, rather than opposing clean drinking water and working to weaken fire protections that ultimately threaten the lives of Oregonians," Wyden concluded.
To read Congressman Bentz's remarks as prepared, click here.