Could Union ‘Go Down the Tubes’?

By Mike Shearer, Correspondent October 26, 2011 04:25 pm
Union mayor fights to keep atown viable UNION — Union Mayor Bill Lindsley is on a mission to keep Union from “going down the tubes.”

Not a talkative man by nature, the mayor has been bending every ear he can find to try to save Union and its neighbors, Cove and North Powder, from economic collapse.

A few weeks ago, he was inspired by — or rather frightened by — an economist who looked at the past few decades and predicted that small towns had a “70 to 80 percent chance of not being around 20 or 30 years down the road.”

Lindsley believes the key to the area’s economic development is for North Powder, Cove and Union to work together. “Individually we don’t have the funds to do a great deal,” he said, but “collectively” they might be able to figure out “what we have to do to get another storefront filled up.”

He has several concrete ideas. One is securing a billboard on the interstate coming into North Powder from the south to get traffic to take the designated scenic route through North Powder, Union, and Cove to get to La Grande. And down the road, in time and literally, he’d like to see a similar billboard in La Grande to steer traffic from the west through the three communities.

He took some of his ideas to North Powder city officials, and he spoke to the Cove city council at its October meeting. He asked Cove councilors, “Are you interested in meeting with us and Powder to try getting some traffic through these towns and to our businesses?”

He told them of his dream of the “large billboard to get people to take the turn and take that drive to show people what activities we can provide.”

Both Cove and North Powder city     officials agreed to meet with Union city officials, and Lindsley has already started what he calls “a conversation with business people to get involved in marketing some of this stuff.”

He mentions attractions such as Union’s golf course and Cove’s hot springs pool as well as North Powder’s festivals and available buildings for potential new business.

He has been meeting with Union business leaders and contacting business people in Cove and North Powder. He has also taken his ideas to the Union County Economic Development Corporation, the League of Oregon Cities and the governor’s regional office.

Although Union has been quietly celebrating its new census status as having inched above the 2,000 population mark, it has been noting trends of economic decline and fearing becoming, if not the ghost town the economist spoke of, nothing more than a bedroom community of La Grande.

No one expects the city to return to its status during its prime when the flour mills and lumber mills flourished because it was a crossroads of rail transportation, but the city council and business leaders have been fighting to keep the businesses they have. Councilors, for instance, are waging a campaign to change Community Bank’s recent decision to close the Union branch in December.

Lindsley, who said he dropped out of the ninth grade to work in a mill, believes Union would be the ideal place for a vocational school. With the modern emphasis on college degrees, he points out there is a dearth of trained trades people — electricians, plumbers, and the like.

“We’re trying to keep these communities from dying,” he said, and he’s not willing to let the communities “go down the tubes” without putting up a fight.