STATE, IN&P MUST KEEP NEGOTIATIONS ON TRACK

April 17, 2001 12:00 am

State, IN&P must keep

negotiations on track

No one thought the negotiations for the state parks department to buy the railroad right of way from Elgin to Joseph would be easy. And a deal is not falling together in short order.

The Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation has been negotiating for about a year with the Idaho Northern and Pacific Railroad to buy the 61-mile stretch that includes some of the most gorgeous scenery in all of Oregon.

The parks department was awarded a $1.26 million grant from the Oregon Transportation Commission, but no one believed that would be sufficient to allow the state to complete the purchase. Idaho Northern reportedly is seeking between $5 million and $8 million for the entire stretch. The state and railroad are not saying where they are in their negotiations. The state also has been quiet about an appraisal it received for the right of way.

The $1.26 million likely is only a starting point. The parks department will need to seek other funding sources to wrap up a deal, perhaps with the assistance of Union and Wallowa county governments.

Its worth all the time and effort to claim the right of way for the publics benefit.

At the very least, the state should try to acquire the section from Elgin to Wallowa. The section along the Grande Ronde and Wallowa rivers traverses some of the most splendid scenery that can be found. Leaving the track in place would provide the opportunity for an investor to come along and put in a seasonal tourist or dinner train from Elgin to Wallowa.

Preserving the track all the way to Joseph, however, is the best option. This would ensure a corridor for the transportation of goods and passengers from La Grande to Enterprise and beyond well into the 21st century.

Its good to see that the negotiations are continuing. A public rail right of way could mean much to Northeast Oregons tourism potential, economy and livability. We should not let this opportunity slip away.

LET IT RAIN

Weve all heard the moaning and groaning about our less-than-perfect April. Despite removing studded tires by the March 31 deadline, we shivered through snow early in the month. That was followed by more than one rainstorm.

Everyones been waiting for the sun to poke through with temperatures in the 70s. Were headed that direction, but crop growers, power generators and the salmon will appreciate the moisture weve been getting this month. Let the April showers keep coming, if they will.

They can only mean a brighter summer for everyone.