National Heritage Area for our Greenway: What’s up, Doc?
The Mountains to Sound Greenway project, which rescued the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass corridor from becoming a mountain slum, would be recognized as Washington’s first National Heritage Area under legislation newly introduced in Congress by the bipartisan team of Republican Rep. Dave Reichert and Democratic Rep. Adam Smith.
But the non-controversial legislation must still pass through a U.S. House committee, chaired by an Eastern Washington Republican, that has refused to act on other legislation to protect recreation spots and wildlands in Eastern King County.
“Congressman Doc Hastings!” ex-U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton told an Issaquah meeting on Tuesday, advising who to lobby.
Hastings has, so far, refused to move a bill sponsored by Reichert and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., that would protect the Middle Fork-Snoqualmie River — the closest mountain valley to Seattle — and put 22,000 acres into the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. The wilderness addition would be in the Pratt River, east of North Bend, a very wild place within spitting distance of Puget Sound population centers.
Hastings is a Republican. Reichert is a Republican. The land is in Reichert’s congressional district. The state’s congressional delegation has a tradition, or used to have a tradition, of cooperating across party lines and across the “Cascade Curtain.”
But Hastings has rarely met a piece of the public’s domain that he didn’t want to drill, or to log, or to mine, or to pave over with industrial tourism. He even managed, last month, to find bad things to say when President Obama created a San Juan Islands National Monument.
The old delegation cooperation is gone.
“Well, there are some ideological positions some members of Congress choose to hold,” Reichert answered Tuesday, when asked why. A moment later, the former King County Sheriff said he is working on Hastings — and having other House members lobby him, and added: “I’ve had the opportunity to interview a lot of tough characters in my previous life.”
The Mountains to Sound Greenway has protected the I-90 corridor from sprawl, preserving riparian zones for wildlife and close-to-Seattle trails for two-legged visitors. It helped (with federal dollars secured by Gorton) transform the Middle Fork-Snoqualmie from a dumping ground for appliances and home to a large meth lab back into a family recreation area with great fishing.
The Greenway’s domain begins literally as I-90 leaves Safeco Field in Seattle. It embraces lands purchased in the Issaquah Alps , the Rattlesnake Mountain area near North Bend, and extends into the drylands of Kittitas County. Large, square-mile-sized chunks of public lands have been bought up and protected, notably in upper reaches of the Cle Elum River valley.
Of more than 1,400,000 acres in the Greenway region, 800,000 are now publicly owned, with 215,000 acres conserved over the past 20 years.
The Greenway was a dream of Issaquah Alps trail enthusiasts, became a vision of Seattle attorney Jim Ellis, and has as its former chair U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. It has brought into cooperation — and together for informal dinners — the antagonists of wilderness and park battles past, from developers to loggers to county commissioners to conservationists.
A National Heritage Area designation would build public awareness of this remarkable achievement, enhance opportunities for funding, and formalize cooperation. It would not interfere with private landowners, or decisions by local government.
The proposal’s endorsers include big names in both political parties — Gorton and ex-Gov. Mike Lowry spoke Tuesday — along with backers ranging from REI to Puget Sound Energy, from Quadrant Homes to The Wilderness Society and Washington Environmental Council. The Democrati-dominated King County Council has signed on, along with Republican county commissioners from Kittitas County. (Kittitas County was added to Reichert’s 8th Congressional District in the state’s last redistricting.)
“There is no downside to this: There is only an upside,” King County Councilman Reagan Dunn said Tuesday.
Yet, the Heritage proposal must still pass muster with Doc Hastings, and with a Natural Resources Committee dominated by the far right of the House Republican Caucus.
Reichert is a five-term congressman, a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, but he sounded Tuesday like a kid trying to impress his teacher. “I handed Doc a packet,” he said at one point. At another occasion on the House floor, he sent a subcommittee chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah — to talk with Hastings in the back of the chamber. “I’m the squeaky wheel on this,” Reichert explained.
“We’re at least getting some positive signs there could be movement on these bills,” said Reichert.
But a key question remains: What’s up Doc?