STATE KILLS THORNY OLD MILL LAND DEAL
Officials with the Department of State Lands confirmed publicly this week that they have nixed a deal for a roughly half-acre property along the bluffs in the Old Mill area. The deal was called into question earlier this year after The Bulletin reported that the owners of the property happened to be the parents of the official who oversees land purchases for the Department of State Lands (DSL), the agency that was mulling the acquisition. The sale was to be the first purchase under a new, yet mysteriously unannounced, program in which the DSL, which typically manages larger rural acres for the benefit of the Oregon school fund, would begin investing in Central Oregon, a move that state officials deemed - amazingly - to be a good bet. Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who sits on the state land board that oversees DSL, ordered the deal be put on hold in October after it was reported that the owners, Dennis Staines and his wife, Virginia, were the parents of DSL manager James Paul IV. It was Paul who put his parents in touch with one of his subordinates, none other than Bend's former urban renewal manager, John Russell, aka the man who "built" Juniper Ridge, about selling the property to the state before recusing himself from the deal. Russell later recommended purchasing the site, despite failing to secure an appraisal for the property.
Paul's recusal was apparently sufficient cover to avoid any ethical violations, at least according to Attorney General John Kroger's office, which investigated the deal at Kulongoski's request. However, the entire backroom mess was more than enough for the governor and DSL to backpedal while ordering a total reevaluation of the shadowy urban lands acquisition program.
NO NEW CENTRAL OREGON WILDERNESS
A pair of proposed wilderness areas along the John Day River near the former Rajneesh Ranch will have to wait for the next Congress, thanks to the stalling of Republican senators. Sen. Harry Reid's office announced this week that the massive omnibus public lands bill that contained both the Cathedral Rock and Horse Heaven wilderness proposals was officially DOA because of Republican opposition. A Reid spokesperson told The Hill that it was possible that some uncontroversial pieces of the lands package bill would advance before the end of the year. However, Brent Fenty, executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association that helped put together the Horse Heaven and Cathedral Rock initiatives, said he doesn't expect either one of those, or any other major wilderness bills, for that matter, to advance with only a few days left before the end of the year and the Congress. Fenty said it was unfortunate that Central Oregon's wilderness bills, which enjoy broad bi-partisan, support would be held up senators from outside the state who have little interest in Oregon's public lands.
"For all of us who have worked so hard on the local level to secure widespread local support, to have some senator from another state hold up these efforts is frustrating to us," Fenty said.
However, Fenty said he is confident that conservation advocates like ONDA have the votes that they need in the next Congress, despite the midterm churn.
"It's not the end of the road. We're confident that the bill will move," Fenty said.
Together, Cathedral Rock and Horse Heaven would add about 16,000 acres of new wilderness to Central Oregon by consolidating federal lands through a series of land exchanges. The result would open several additional river miles to camping while creating a pair of large contiguous wilderness areas adjacent to the John Day River that would be accessible to hikers and hunters who float through the popular section.
DESCHUTES GOES BIGGER
One of the biggest gripes you'll hear about the Deschutes Brewery pub in downtown Bend has nothing to do with the quality of the food or the beer, but rather the fact that the place is always crowded. While snagging a pint from the bar is always an option, it's not uncommon to wait for as long as an hour for a table at Deschutes.
That will change by 2012 as the brewery announced this week that it is planning a significant expansion of its brewpub, which has operated on Bond Street for 22 years.
The plan for the expansion, as stated in a press release, is for a two-story addition directly south of the current restaurant. This is planned to include both indoor and outdoor balcony seating, a private dining space. There is also a plan to expand and modernize the kitchen.
Construction is set to begin in early 2011, but the revamped restaurant isn't expected to be up and running until 2012.
GOODBYE, FREE INTERNET?
In a long-expected ruling that finally came to pass last week and was somewhat lost in the holiday rush, the Federal Communications Commission announced a new set of rules that will likely fracture the Internet into two separate playing fields with one set of rules for cable and phone companies and another for the fast growing field of wireless providers. Under the new rules, which were held up as a reasonable, if imperfect compromise by supporters and lambasted by some consumer advocacy groups, service providers would be allowed to create two different classes of digital customers - those who can pay and those who cannot. While the new rules prohibit so-called fixed providers, such as cable companies, from creating separate service tiers, the new rules allow wireless providers to charge more for faster speeds, something that lawmakers say will provide incentive for providers to continue to invest in their networks. However, the rules also allow wireless heavyweights like Verizon leeway to regulate content and bar some applications outright - something that critics view as a threat to the traditionally egalitarian Internet that we know today. So where does the rubber meat the road? Most likely somewhere around your wallet, something that content providers will be reaching for in the form of new and higher fees on the brave new web.