February 20, 2002 11:00 pm

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

ISLAND CITY The idea of having scientists outside of federal agencies such as the BLM or U.S. Parks Service review information in policy development is gaining support in Washington, D.C., Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., told about 40 people Wednesday morning, but other agriculture concerns are meeting with mixed receptions.

Termed peer review, the idea is to have scientists other than those directly tied to federal agencies present information to policy makers.

Walden, visiting Union County during the congressional Presidents Day break, shared information and fielded questions from farmers, ranchers and others at a morning meeting at the Ag Service Center.

The second-term congressman, a radio station owner from Hood River, started the morning by telling the local agriculturists that half my time, literally, in the past year has been spent on the Klamath Basin situation.

The latest development from the situation involving last springs federal decision to cut off irrigation water and keep water levels up in Klamath Lake, Walden said, is that the National Academy of Science is supporting everything the farmers and ranchers have been saying all along.

A hearing before the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee about the science involved in the Klamath situation is scheduled March 14, Walden said.

What the Klamath Basin situation provides, Walden told the group, is an extraordinary opportunity to change the Endangered Species Act.

But, he warned, the way to make those changes, desired by many in agricultural and other natural resources industries, is to pick off the piece you can handle.

In this situation, it is time to codify the need for peer review of scientific findings perhaps by an overseeing group of non-government-funded scientists.

The other opportunity for change, Walden suggested, is to be sure that future land and water management decisions take into account actual land-owner data.

Another really troubling issue, Walden said, concerns the reintroduction and spread of wolves into Western ranching states. The congressman had little more to say on the issue, although worry about wolves came up during questions from the audience.

He had more to say about the federal farm bill.

Northeast Oregons Republican representative in Congress opposes any relaxation of clean-up requirements at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Rep. Greg Walden of Hood River on Wednesday expressed his support for adequate funding to continue the planned cleanup at both Hanford and the Army Chemical Depot at Umatilla.

We need to stay on track with both those programs, he said during a meeting of the Union County commissioners.

Waldens comment came in response to questions and concerns posed by La Grandes Shelley Cimon, chairwoman of the Oregon Hanford Waste Board.

Cimon, who spoke to the Blue Mountain Forum in early February about the effects of radioactive material at Hanford, said that material, especially tritium, is moving toward the Columbia River. In addition, aging tanks that hold radioactive material are at increasing risk of failing.

Tritium is most mobile, and its on the move, Cimon said.

She told the congressman that the current Bush Administration budget falls $300 million short of the amount needed to reach one remediation goal set for 2018. She has said in the past that $1.8 billion per year is needed to meet that goal.

Walden indicated his support of continuing the level of funding needed to reach the goal.

Thats got to be cleaned up, he said.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., also indicated support for continued funding of the process now going on at Hanford. Wyden led a town meeting in La Grande Tuesday.

I will use my place on the Senate Budget Committee to derail the administrations effort to cut the budget, he said. If we cut back on the vitrification, my question is: How soon will the wastes get into the Columbia River?

Vitrification is the process that stabilizes the volatile and hazardous material stored in the Hanford tanks, turning the material into a glass-type substance.


During a meeting Wednesday with The Observers editorial board, Walden expressed his support for Union and Wallowa counties efforts to purchase the Idaho Northern & Pacific Railroad from La Grande to Joseph.

He said, however, Id like to be helpful, but the timing is way off. Timing is a problem unless you get something in a supplement budget, and I dont know if well have a supplement budget.

Federal budget planning for the 2003 fiscal year usually begins in March. Walden said that Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., is also looking into the counties request.

Waldens comments came a day after Wyden told the county commissioners that it will be almost impossible to raise between $10 million and $13 million from the federal government for one railroad project.

Walden did not discuss the railroad purchase with the county commissioners.