Gorge commission preps funding pitch

first_imgIt takes an optimist to do Darren Nichols’ job. Fortunately, the executive director of the Columbia River Gorge Commission more than fits that description.“I have to be an optimist,” Nichols said. “Things are looking better every day.”As the commission prepares to make its two-year funding pitch to state lawmakers in both Washington and Oregon, agency leaders are hoping for an increase in an era of perennially tight budgets. They’re hoping to re-energize an effort to collect detailed data on the area and its health. They’re looking to strengthen connections with communities and players within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.“The bottom line is, we need a significant increase in the investment of the two states to really harness the potential of this region,” Nichols said.The Gorge commission, hobbled by budget cuts in recent years, now operates on an annual budget of slightly more than $800,000, with just five full-time employees. One of its biggest priorities, the Vital Signs Indicators project, has largely stalled, with only squeezed resources to devote to it. Cuts have also stretched an agency whose charge is to coordinate policy and land-use planning among four Columbia Basin tribes, six counties and the communities within them. A big part of that is maintaining regular contact and relationships with those parties, Nichols said.The commission’s current financial situation simply hasn’t allowed that, he said.“It’s not even close,” Nichols said. “We can’t even keep up with day-to-day obligations.”The commission, which is funded equally by the Washington and Oregon legislatures, has asked for a budget that would bring its biennium total to $2.6 million, Nichols said, or about $1.3 million per year. That would bring the agency closer to its pre-recession levels, allow it to restore some core functions and look ahead to the future, he said.last_img

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