February 22, 2002 11:00 pm

By Bill Rautenstrauch

For The Observer

Wallowa County will have some extra representation in the nations capital early next month, when County Commissioner Ben Boswell attends the National Association of Counties annual convention.

Boswell, accompanied by commissioners from Union and Umatilla counties, leaves for Washington Feb. 28 for the associations annual legislative conference. Duties as a vice-chairman of the Environment, Energy and Land Use Steering Committee will consume much of his time during the five-day meeting, but he also plans to lobby for causes important to Wallowa County.

There will be visits with the Oregon congressional delegations and staff, he said, adding that agricultural issues will be spotlighted. An especially important matter of local interest, the commissioner noted, is proposed legislation that would provide $30 million for a Wallowa County watershed restoration project.

The project, backed by U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith, would include a retrofitting of the Wallowa Lake Dam.

The idea is to move stored irrigation water to the lower valley, instead of taking it out of Bear Creek and the Lostine River, Boswell said.

He said the change would greatly benefit local salmon populations. Boswell also said he will help man a booth hosted by Umatilla County Commissioner Bill Hansell, who is running for second vice president of the NAC.

If he were elected, it would be to Wallowa Countys advantage, Boswell said.

Also, Boswell said that he and Union County Commissioner John Howard will lobby the Oregon delegation for assistance in buying the abandoned Idaho Northern & Pacific rail line from Elgin into Wallowa County.

Were seeking at least $10 million to acquire the line, Boswell said.

(Current owner representative) Richard Bertells has promised to support our lobbying efforts. Of course, its in his best interest for the government to give the money.

Boswell will attend two general sessions and various workshops and committee meetings through March 4.

On March 5, meetings are scheduled with the staffs of Smith, Wyden, Rep. Greg Walden and other congressmen. Also on the slate are meetings with various administrative staffs.

Other highlights of the trip will be a conference with Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge on March 3, and a presidents reception March 4.

Wallowa County sends a representative to the convention each year. Federal issues addressed on behalf of the county in the past have included national forest management, rural economic development, the agricultural economy, rural health care, rural telecommunications, payments to counties and predator control.

Many of those issues are up for debate again, Boswell said.

Reach Bill Rautenstrauch at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it