Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) today urged the U.S. Forest Service to take speedy action to repair and re-open the Wallowa Mountain Loop Road, which was washed out in several places due to the heavy rains that led to flooding in Baker, Union, and Wallowa counties.
Walden also announced that he will visit Baker County on Sunday, June 13 to tour flood-damaged areas in Richland and Halfway before holding a community forum at the Eagle Valley Grange in Richland at 5 pm to discuss the impacts to the region. The forum will be hosted by Halfway Mayor Sheila Farwell and Richland Mayor Dick Petterson, and area county officials and representatives from the U.S. Forest Service are expected to also be on hand.
"We need to repair and re-open that road as fast as possible," Rep. Walden said. "The Wallowa Mountain Loop Road is a critical link between Baker and Wallowa counties and is a major tourism corridor that bolsters local economies. I appreciate Regional Forester Wagner briefing me on the condition of the road, and I committed my assistance to her in any way that it would be helpful to get that road back into service as soon as possible."
Today, Walden organized a high-level briefing in his Washington, D.C. office from Region 6 Forester Mary Wagner and senior Forest Service staff. He delivered to Wagner a letter addressed to her and U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell that asks them to repair the road as quickly as possible, and offers Walden's assistance in any way that he can be helpful.
Walden's office has been in contact with the local and state offices of federal farm and conservation agencies as well as local agriculture associations to receive updates on damages to crops, livestock, feed, and water delivery.
Walden also sent a letter to Ray LaHood, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, alerting him to the situation and asking for his agency's cooperation with the Forest Service to start repairs as quickly as possible.
The Wallowa County Board of Commissioners deemed the loss of the road enough of a threat to the regional economy that they will declare a state of emergency in Wallowa County, likely either today or tomorrow.
Baker County already declared a state of emergency earlier in the week.
Rep. Walden to visit impacted areas on Sunday
Rep. Walden today announced that he will visit Baker County on Sunday, June 13 to observe the flooding damage and meet with impacted residents and businesses.
He will tour the flooding damage in Richland and Halfway before holding a community forum on the impact of the flooding at the Eagle Valley Grange in Richmond. The community forum will begin at 5 pm.
Media who are interested in joining the tour of the flooded areas should plan to meet at the Halfway Sewage Lagoons at 3:25 pm to begin the tour.
Copies of the letters that Rep. Walden sent to the Forest Service and Secretary LaHood are pasted below:
June 10, 2010
Chief, U.S. Forest Service
1400 Independence Ave.
Washington, D.C. 20250
Regional Forester, Pacific Northwest Region
U.S. Forest Service
333 SW 1st. Ave.
Portland, OR 97208
Dear Chief Tidwell and Regional Forester Wagner:
Heavy rains and flooding have wreaked havoc on private property and public land in Baker, Union, and Wallowa counties. The flooding has damaged homes, farms, and destroyed multiple bridges in Baker County. Your commitment to swiftly repairing the damaged forest service roads is critical to mitigating the economic impact of the flooding to the region.
In the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, several roads have been washed out--including the vital artery of Forest Service Road 39, also known as the Wallowa Mountain Loop Road, which serves as the main thoroughfare between Baker County and Wallowa County.
As a segment of the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, the road is a major tourist attraction for the region, and an important economic engine during the spring and summer months for Baker and Wallowa counties.
The Wallowa County Board of Commissioners deemed the loss of the road enough of a threat to the regional economy that they will soon declare a state of emergency in Wallowa County.
The damage from the flooding will require swift assistance from local, state, and federal agencies. The U.S. Forest Service's unswerving commitment to the recovery is especially imperative given the economic importance of the road.
On behalf of eastern Oregonians, I urge you to utilize every tool at your disposal to get the Wallowa Mountain Loop Road back into passable form as soon as possible. I stand ready to assist your efforts in any way I can be helpful.
Thank you for your attention to this critical matter.
Member of Congress