Mt. Hood/Cooper Spur Lawsuit Moves Forward

Our case against the US Forest Service had its first test in Federal District Court on Wednesday and we emerged with a win!

Last July, we filed suit against the Forest Service for “unreasonable delay” after waiting more than six years for them to complete the Mt. Hood/Cooper Spur land exchange ordered by Congress way back in 2009. The Forest Service had sought to have the case thrown out, saying that the court did not have jurisdiction to compel the agency (USFS) to act. Judge Anna Brown disagreed and denied the  Forest Service’s Motion to Dismiss. At the hearing the judge said that the “agency can’t ignore a mandate of Congress, put it on a shelf and let years go by.”

In such situations, the court can enforce a mandate of Congress. In denying the Forest Service’s Motion to Dismiss, Judge Brown noted that the sheer lapse of time would support that the trade was unreasonably delayed and that the case should move forward. At oral argument, the Residents Committee was joined by Hood River County, Clackamas County and Mt. Hood Meadows as plaintiffs defending against the Forest Service’s Motion to Dismiss. Judge Brown set a briefing schedule and the case will now proceed under her careful supervision. For more info on the hearing . . .click here.

court photo

HRVRC Board members and supporters in front of Federal District Court in Portland with our attorneys from CRAG Law, Chris Winter (top left) and Ralph Bloemers (far right) and co-plaintiffs from Mt. Hood Meadows, Matthew Drake and Jonathan Radmacher (top two right)

Many thanks to the lovely folks who attended the hearing in Portland and to those who have donated to the legal fund for the land trade. This trade is a marathon, not a sprint. We are grateful that so many of you have stuck with this issue all these miles. . .

HRVRC Lawsuit Exerts Pressure to Complete Mt. Hood/Cooper Spur Land Trade

One of our longest running projects has been our effort to save the north side of Mount Hood frommountain development and instead preserve it for the American public as wilderness. In 2009, Congress passed a law that did just that. But the law’s wilderness protections hinge on a land trade between the Forest Service and Mt. Hood Meadows. The 2009 Act required the Forest Service to complete the exchange in 16 months, but six years have passed and the trade is nowhere near the finish line. With the deal near collapse and seeing no alternative, we filed a lawsuit against the US Forest Service for their unreasonable delay in completing the Cooper Spur/Government Camp land exchange mandated by Congress.

The 2009 Act was intended to put an end to decades of litigation and dispute over the future of the north side of Mt. Hood where Mt. Hood Meadows LLC had made several controversial attempts to locate large designation resorts. The Act calls for 770 acres at Cooper Spur, owned by Mt. Hood Meadows, to be traded for 120 acres at Government Camp owned by the Forest Service. The Cooper Spur property includes the Crystal Springs watershed and would become part of the Wilderness area of the Mt. Hood National Forest while the Government Camp properties are already planned by local zoning code for extensive development.

Our lawsuit alleges that the Forest Service has unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed action mandated by Congress and requests that the Federal Court order the Forest Service to complete the land trade in a timely fashion. The complaint also requests that Court maintain continuing jurisdiction to oversee the Forest Service until the trade is complete.

The lawsuit will have its first day in court before Judge Anna Brown on January 6, 1:30 pm at the US District Court in Portland, 1000 SW 3rd Ave #740, Portland, OR 97204. The Residents Committee has arranged for a van from Hood River so that supporters can attend the hearing. The van will leave Hood River at 11. Contact Heather Staten, heather@hrvrc.org or 541-490-5225 for more info.

The pressure exerted by our suit has already had some effect. The Forest Service and Mt. Hood Meadows have sat down for face-to-face sessions for the first time in over a year to work out one of the major sticking points on the trade, a conservation easement for wetlands at Government Camp.

Meanwhile, Oregon’s Senators Wyden and Merkley, frustrated with Forest Service’s unreasonable delay, have sponsored “fix it” legislation—Senate Bill 2069. Representatives Walden and Blumenhauer plan to introduce companion legislation in the House. The legislation clarifies Congress’s intent and imposes a new, hard deadline on the Forest Service. The bill provides good environmental and public process safeguards while stripping Forest Service of discretion in the areas that we believe they were intentionally (and hypocritically) using to delay progress. When introducing the bill, Sen. Wyden was very clear how disappointed he was in the Forest Service’s lack of progress “This land exchange is now 62 months past due and progress has stalled. Delays have angered the public, endangered the environment and spurred a lawsuit against the Forest Service. It is time to get this done. Sixty-two months to wait for something like this is, by any standard, just absurd.”

When the 2009 Act passed, many of you joined us in celebrating a historic solution to decades of dispute. Rest assured, we will not let this hard-fought solution slip away due to Forest Service inaction. We will do everything in our power to see that the deal President Obama signed into law is completed as planned.

HRVRC Sues Forest Service Over Stalled Land Trade

Today, July 27, 2015, the Hood River Valley Residents Committee filed a lawsuit against the US Forest Service for failure to complete the Cooper Spur/Government Camp land exchange mandated by the Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009. The Act required the Forest Service to complete the exchange in 16 months, but six years have passed and the trade is threatened by the Forest Service’s failure to execute the necessary steps to finalize the trade.

The 2009 Act was intended to put an end to decades of litigation and dispute over the future of the north side of Mt. Hood where Mt. Hood Meadows LLC had made several controversial attempts to locate large designation resorts. The Act calls for 770 acres at Cooper Spur, owned by Mt. Hood Meadows, to be traded for 120 acres at Government Camp owned by the Forest Service. The Cooper Spur property includes the Crystal Springs watershed and would become part of the Wilderness area of the Mt. Hood National Forest while the Government Camp properties are already planned by local zoning code for extensive development.

Mike McCarthy, an orchardist who lives in the upper valley and member of the Hood River Valley Residents Committee, stated:  “There is a law on the books to complete this exchange, and the Forest Service has failed to meet its terms.  We don’t enter litigation lightly but five years late is egregious. We cannot afford to sit idly by and let the Forest Service run this into the ground through inaction and abuse of their agency.”

Heather Staten, Executive Director for the Hood River Valley Residents Committee stated: “Over a decade ago, the environmental community, recreation clubs, local residents, Hood River County, Mt. Hood Meadows and our Congressional delegation put together a historic solution to protect thousands of acres of wilderness lands and a drinking watershed on the north side at Cooper Spur.  This historic solution was put into the Mt. Hood Wilderness bill and signed by the President in 2009. The land exchange resolved a three decade old dispute, and the future of the north side is contingent on the Forest Service completing it.”

“The Forest Service was directed to complete this trade in 16 months, but instead of doing their job as directed they have acted beyond their legislative authority and sought to impose unreasonable conditions that threaten this historic solution.  The public cannot afford to wait another month, let alone another 5 years, for them to do their job” according to Ralph Bloemers, attorney for the plaintiffs, Crag Law Center, who represents the Hood River Valley Residents Committee in the case.

Oregon’s congressional delegation is equally unhappy with the Forest Service’s lack of progress. In June, Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Earl Blumenauer sent Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell a joint letter expressing their dissatisfaction with the Forest Service’s progress on the trade “We are extremely concerned that its resolution is very delinquent, and this lack of completion is clearly contrary to our legislative intent, the language of the 2009 Act and the interests of the public and our environment. Any further delay is absolutely unacceptable.”

At a recent townhall held at Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood, Sen. Wyden was even more blunt, “The most diplomatic way you can describe how the Forest Service has reacted since then is inertia. But I’d probably describe it more as apathy or pretty much making the land exchange a pariah at the agency. And I’m telling you it’s going to stop. This is absurd that year after year after year it’s been impossible to get an answer. This is way, way, way over the line with respect to how an agency ought to go about handling a law that has been passed by the Congress. This is not the way it’s supposed to work.” Rep. Blumenauer added “It’s been 75 months and that’s too long. I would love to get this past the finish line. The Oregon delegation is united on this.”

In their complaint, HRVRC alleges that the Forest Service has unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed action mandated by Congress and requests that the Federal Court order the Forest Service to complete the land trade in a timely fashion. The complaint also requests that Court maintain continuing jurisdiction to oversee the Forest Service until the trade is complete.  The Plaintiffs intend to request expedited consideration of the case and will also immediately contact the Forest Service to initiate settlement talks.  Ever since the legislation was passed in 2009, the HRVRC has attempted to engage in good faith and support the Forest Service to fulfill its mandate.

Russ Pascoe, chairperson of the Cooper Spur Wild & Free Coalition stated: “So far the Forest Service has let us down.  The Forest Service was presented with a rare opportunity to work with onetime foes towards a common goal – protecting the north side of Mt. Hood.  The public has too much at stake to sit idly by while the Forest Service squanders an opportunity to accomplish this sweet deal for the public.”