The topic of last week's meeting was to place Prineville's concerns before the officials who will decide where to locate the headquarters for the two recently merged National Forests
It might not make any real difference, but the complaint that a decision to locate the combined Ochoco-Deschutes National Forest headquarters in either Bend or Redmond without taking into account the impact on Prineville is no longer valid. A number of local business people met with the USFS team involved with deciding where to locate that office.
Earlier last week, Crook County Judge Scott Cooper wrote a letter to Leslie Weldon, supervisor for the combined Ochoco-Deschutes National Forest, expressing his "grave concern regarding the integrity of the decision-making process" as well as concern for the potential economic and social impact of the removal of 50 jobs from Prineville.
Copies of that letter was forwarded to the Oregon Congressional delegation and to former Congressman Bob Smith, who is presently part of President Geo. W. Bush's transition team. Last Friday seven members of the administrative team met with eight local representatives.
"At least we had them out-numbered," Cooper, one of those attending the meeting, said. "It gave us a good opportunity to show the Forest Service how united we are and the depths or our concerns," he added.
Along with Cooper, County Commissioner Mike McCabe, Prineville Mayor Steve Uffleman, Prineville City Manager Henry Hartley, Prineville Planning Director Dick Brown, Chamber of Commerce Director Diane Bohle, Publisher Bill Schaffer and Brenda Comini took part in the meeting. Although Comini is also a member of the Prineville City Council, Cooper explained she was actually wearing the hat of Director of Children and Family Services.
"It was a good cross section of the local business community," Cooper said.
One of the positive aspects of the meeting, in Cooper's view, was the level of communication and information sharing that has been missing. However, he quickly added, he doesn't think anything has changed. "We are not going to change the team's decision. They did promise, though, to work to keep the (local Forest Service) building full with some kind of Forest Service activity."
Cooper said he came away believing the Forest Service is looking for a way to put this fire out, "and they haven't found it yet."
Saving money by combining the two forest's headquarters was mentioned, but Cooper said that is not part of the Forest Service's mandate. "Their mandate has a three-fold direction: the forest's health, forest dependent communities and forest employees. I don't think they have addressed these issues."
The time, he continued, for the Forest Service to simply say, "trust me" is over. "First they said there would not be a merger of the town National Forests, then they said it would only be a BLM and the Forest Service merger, and then they said that only one position would be affected, and then they said the merger would be invisible to the community. So I say, the time of 'trust me' is over."
Coming away from the meeting without any resolution will mean taking the next step. That will be asking former Congressman Bob Smith where to apply pressure next.
"I think it's time for local people to start writing letters and sending emails to our Congressional representatives. Don)t just write letters to the editor," Cooper advised, "they will have a lot more value if those letters are sent to the delegation."
A formal written response from the Forest Service to the Prineville meeting is expected later this week. That is when, Cooper said, we'd see if there is any change.