May 13, 2002 11:00 pm

Calling it a roundtable discussion, U.S. Congressman Greg Walden, R-Ore., met Monday in Pendleton with Northeastern Oregon sheriffs and police chiefs to talk about federal help to combat the methamphetamine problem in the area.

Attending the meeting were sheriffs from Union, Umatilla, Wallowa, and Morrow counties, and police chiefs from La Grande, Pendleton, Enterprise, Baker City and Milton-Freewater.

Representatives were also at the meeting from the Oregon State Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

At the heart of the roundtable was trying to establish a DEA duty post in Pendleton.

Walden, who represents Eastern Oregon and a portion of Southern Oregon in the House, called DEA administrator Asa Hutchinson in Washington, D.C., last week, expressing his support for a duty post in Umatilla County. Walden followed up the call with a letter the same day, highlighting statistics that illustrate the extent of meth manufacturing in Umatilla County and the surrounding area.

The sheriffs and police chiefs briefed Walden on the operations of multi-agency counter-drug task forces and the need for federal help in combating methamphetamine in the area.

During 2001, a total of 456 clandestine meth labs were discovered in Oregon, more than in 25 other states combined. Only four states saw more lab seizures that year than Oregon — California, Washington, Missouri and Oklahoma.

Of the 48 meth lab seizures in Northeast Oregon in 2001, six were made in Union County.

Hermiston and Pendleton have been identified as major meth manufacturing and distribution hubs due to their close proximity to the Tri-Cities and Yakima in Washington, as well as for their relatively small number of law enforcement officers to control the problem.

"Meth production and use is reaching epidemic proportions in our rural communities in Eastern Oregon, and local resources are often too scarce to confront such a rapidly growing problem," Walden said.

"An increased federal presence in this area is desperately needed. I'm tremendously proud of the men and women in law enforcement who are working to keep our streets safe from the scourge of meth and other illegal drugs."

The DEA was represented at the Pendleton meeting by a special agent based in Seattle.

Monday's meeting also included Walden briefing officers about his efforts to deliver more federal money for enforcement and education about drugs.

Multi-agency drug task forces in Northeast Oregon include Union and Wallowa counties' MERIT (Multi-Agency Drug Enforcement Response and Interdiction Team), Baker County's BCNET (Narcotics Enforcement Team), and BENT (the Blue Mountain Narcotics Team serving Umatilla and Morrow counties).