September 24, 2009

Senate Approves FLAME Act, Over $8 Million for Oregon Projects to Improve Communities and Preserve Natural Areas

Interior Department Appropriations Bill Includes Funding for Land Acquisition and Vernonia Wastewater Treatment PlantMerkley, Wyden-Sponsored Wildfire Suppression Amendment Adopted

Washington, D.C. - Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced today that the Interior Appropriations bill, which includes over $8 million for Oregon projects, passed the U.S. Senate. The bill includes funding to protect and conserve natural recreation areas, replace outdated infrastructure, and provide farmers the resources they need to bring their crops to market.

"We must continue to preserve Oregon's natural treasures so that future generations will benefit from the recreation they provide and the tourism they attract," said Merkley. "These funds will create jobs by improving wastewater and clean drinking water systems for local communities, and expand protections for Oregon's treasured places."

"From Cascade-Siskiyou to Hells Canyon to Nestucca Bay, this funding will help to protect forests and wildlife across the state, help the residents of Vernonia safely rebuild their infrastructure and set aside the funds needed to successfully fight large-scale wildfires,"
Wyden said.

On Tuesday, Merkley and Wyden co-sponsored an amendment to the bill that will set aside millions of dollars to help pay the cost of fire suppression on federal land. The proposal would move $834 million from existing wildfire suppression accounts into a new Federal Land Assistance Management and Enhancement (FLAME) fund. Creating a separate fund for fighting large-scale wildfires would limit the need for agencies to take funds away from other programs. This amendment was successfully incorporated into the legislation.

The bill includes funding to rehabilitate and relocate the Wastewater Treatment Plant in the City of Vernonia out of the floodplain to minimize the possibility of a public health emergency caused by sewage contamination during floods.

Also included in the bill is the first funding of the Forest Landscape Restoration Act, which Merkley and Wyden requested. This program will bring collaborative forest restoration projects, which are creating jobs in Oregon forest communities doing forest health restoration work and avoiding costly litigation, to a larger scale so that more forested lands can be restored. The program will establish demonstration projects of at least 50,000 acres.

Funding for the following projects include:

Sandy River/Oregon National Historic Trail - $2,100,000

Funding is for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to acquire and conserve property in the Sandy River Basin. Located 25 miles from downtown Portland, this acquisition will serve as a conservation and recreation area.

Hells Canyon National Recreation Area - $2,000,000

Using Land and Water Conservation Funds, this project takes advantage of a opportunity to acquire land within the National Recreation Area to ensure that it will continue to contribute to the overall welfare of the community and be placed in public hands. This project will guarantee permanent public access for activities such as hunting and fishing.

Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Land Purchase - $1,000,000

Funding for this project will be used to transfer privately-owned land in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument into public hands, opening it to public use.

Forest Legacy Project - $1,000,000

This project would fund the purchase of oak savannah and oak woodlands in the southwest hills of Eugene. This is for the 2nd phase of funding in an ongoing acquisition program for the Eugene Ridgeline Trail corridor and is among the U.S. Forest Service's top ranked Oregon Priority Forests under the 2001 "Assessment of Need."

Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge - $1,000,000

This funding will go toward land acquisition in the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and will help to advance habitat protection. The NWR is home to 10 percent of the world population of the dusky Canada geese and 100 percent of a rare subpopulation of Aleutian geese.

Siskiyou National Forest- $360,000

Funds will be used to acquire and conserve a 170-acre property along the Elk River and Rock Creek. This property offers the opportunity to protect two federally listed species and continue the habitat connection from the newly created Copper Salmon Wilderness Area and the Grassy Knob Wilderness Area to the Pacific Ocean.

Milton-Freewater Storm Water Treatment System - $300,000

Funds will be used to plan, design and construct a storm water treatment system that includes a holding pond facility to provide silt settlement and pump partially treated storm water to existing irrigation systems providing benefit to agriculture. Subsequent phases of the project could include treatment of storm water to acceptable levels for groundwater recharge and injection into local collection ponds. The project will reduce the impact on shallow wells in the area improving their use for agriculture and providing safe drinking water to citizens.

Vernonia Wastewater Management Facility - $300,000

These funds will go toward the construction of a relocated wastewater treatment facility outside of the floodplain in Vernonia, Oregon. The City of Vernonia experienced major floods in 1996 and 2007 that flooded the current wastewater treatment facility and resulted in raw and partially treated sewage being released into the flood waters and contaminating houses. This funding will help the city fund the relocation and reconstruction of its wastewater treatment facility outside of the floodplain, minimizing the risk of sewage mixing with flood waters in the future.

Wallowa County Courthouse Upgrade - $200,000

Funding will be used for upgrades to the Wallowa County Courthouse including roof replacement and the construction of an elevator shaft to make the 100-year-old structure ADA-compliant and provide structural and seismic improvements to the structure. The Courthouse is listed on the Oregon Historical Registry and is a focal point for the City of Enterprise.