May 16, 2002 11:00 pm

Monday's Union County Planning Commission meeting turned from reality to fantasy as commissioners decided to accommodate the whims of Island City leaders who had requested that the county agree to boost that city's proposed growth rate over the next 18 years. The idea that by 2020 Island City would grow to 2,500 residents and that Union County would have 30,000 residents takes planning to a new level of ridiculous.

THE DECISION by the planning commissioners to up these proposed population numbers is nothing more than a smokescreen on the part of some local political leaders to make a case to the state that property along Island Avenue should be brought into the urban growth boundary to allow for the building of a Wal-Mart mega-store.

Instead of focusing on the real need — more industrial development acreage — this group seems bent on smothering the dozens of local retailers with a single giant store. There won't be any serious population growth in Union County over the next 18 years unless we first create good-paying ($35,000 to $45,000 per year) jobs that would drive the need for more houses and more retailers.

POPULATION GROWTH that is driven by either senior citizens or low-paying retail jobs will never improve Union County or any other county for that matter. And even more students attending Eastern Oregon University won't create a real boom to our economy, but will continue to create a false economy based on the purchase of fast-foods or cheap goods.

As of now, Union County's heavy industrial parcels are limited. Certainly it is not enough in any site to locate a large manufacturing company, one that would pay the kind of wages needed to grow the economy. Instead of political leaders working to grow more low-paying jobs, they should be joining forces to increase our industrial land base and family-wage jobs.

Instead of dealing with the important issues, officials seem content to create population forecasts that don't add up now and won't make any more sense 18 years from now.


People living in La Grande might take for granted that the city is situated on one of the most significant historical features around: the old Oregon Trail. A reminder of the trail can be found at George S. Birnie Park on the city's south side. But that's only for those who stop by the park and elect to walk the commemorative path.

AREA RESIDENTS will have a chance to see that historical trail up close when the annual Oregon Trail hike is conducted June 1. Participants will spend the morning enjoying the spring flowers and reflecting on memories along the 150-year-old trail in the hills west of La Grande to Hilgard. Those who wish to join the hike should contact Lanetta Paul at 963-0881 or Gerda Brownton at 963-3095. It will be an experience they will not soon forget.