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Wyden has town hall meeting

Senator speaks on several local, national issues
Herald and News 1/19/11 by ELON GLUCKLICH
     U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden spoke on everything from illegal immigration to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement at a town hall meeting Tuesday in Klamath Falls.

   Wyden, D-Ore., spent 90 minutes taking questions from a crowd of about 150 at the Oregon Institute of Technology’s College Union auditorium.

   Audience questions touched on most of the significant political issues facing Klamath Basin residents, including job creation, health care, public safety and more.

   A few people wanted to know more about Wyden’s support of biomass projects. One Klamath Falls resident, Paul Fouch, asked Wyden if there were no better locations for a biomass facility than the proposal for one to be built on Collins Products property on Highway 66 just outside city limits.

   Officials with that project say they hope to start building before July 1.

   Wyden responded by saying now is not the time to argue over the location of a facility that would bring jobs to the region, and set a precedent for alternative energy production in the state.

   “With the immense economic hurt we’re seeing in rural Oregon, I think it would be an enormous mistake to walk away from the promise of biomass,” he said.  

   Klamath Basin issues

   Tom Mallams, president of the Klamath Off-Project Water Users Association, asked Wyden if it is right to move forward on the Klamath Basin Rest or at ion Agreement while roughly half of the Klamath Basin population opposes it.

   Wyden didn’t answer the question directly, but said making sure all sides of the issue had their say is his top priority.

   “I certainly wouldn’t favor the federal government trying to jump the gun and do something absent of bringing both sides together,” Wyden said. “I want to make sure that all stakeholders get heard.”

   Some people seemed to surprise the senator with their questions. One attendee asked why Wyden hadn’t pressed President Barack Obama to show documentation of his United States citizenship. Wyden responded by suggesting he has no reason to doubt Obama’s citizenship status.  

   Another took his time with the microphone to speak out angrily against local law enforcement officials and the Klamath County District Attorney’s office. The senator took it as an opportunity to remind the crowd that violence and irrational anger don’t have a place in political discourse.
  But others brought more policy-related questions to the table. Klamath Falls resident Anita Ward wanted to know if any help is available for residents struggling to stay in their homes.

   Wyden called foreclosures “an extremely serious issue” facing Oregonians. He said the way banks start foreclosure proceedings needs to be more carefully regulated, and assistance programs need to be created to help responsible borrowers avoid losing their homes.

   Federal support

   Several questions   focused on the status of law enforcement funding. Al King of Klamath Falls asked if any federal help was available to ease the county’s law enforcement problem, particularly in relation to the jail’s inmate capacity, which was cut by more than half last summer.

   Wyden said he is aware of Klamath County’s jail situation. He took the question as an opportunity to reiterate his support for a federal funding program that has funneled   millions of dollars to the Klamath Basin over the last decade.

   Money through the federal Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 has enabled local communities to fund everything from law enforcement to public education and transportation. Wyden said Klamath County and other rural communities have received millions from the fund.

   But some federal lawmakers say the program is no longer economically feasible, and are considering eliminating it to reduce the federal budget. Wyden said that would be a critical mistake.

   “We need those timber funds to continue coming in, and I’m going to make sure they do keep coming,” Wyden said.  

Q&A with Senator Wyden
     Following Tuesday’s town hall meeting in Klamath Falls, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., took a moment to answer questions from the Herald and News about some key issues impacting the Klamath Basin:

   Q: Many Klamath Falls customers are concerned about increasing prices of water and sewer bills. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has ruled that water f lows from the Klamath River must meet stricter environmental standards, but many of the pollutants behind the DEQ’s decision are naturally occurring. Why should Klamath Falls residents pay for something   that isn’t their fault?

   A: “I’m very concerned about those ratepayer questions brought up by the (Total Maximum Daily Load) issue. It’s something that’s going to   be looked at in the upcoming year. I’m going to assign (the water quality issue) to a staffer who will come to the Basin to look into it further.”

   Q: What action do you see being taken on the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement in Congress this year?

   A: “Right now what we’re working on is reaching out to stakeholders and getting as much input as we can. I’m working closely with Representative (Greg) Walden to get the issue into the appropriate committee in Congress.”

   Q: You’re an outspoken supporter of biomass production in Oregon, but is there really enough demand to make it a substantial job creator in Oregon?

   A: There are just tons of acres of overstock (trees) in our forests. Just in the Winema Forest   and on the east side of the Cascades, there’s enough out there for biomass to be very much a part of economic prosperity in the future.”

   Q: Klamath Falls lost out on a proposed 150-bed veterans long-term health care facility last spring, but a new proposal could bring a 75-bed facility to the region. What’s your take on the need for health care services for Klamath Basin veterans?

   A: “I think there are still significant gaps when it comes to veterans health care in rural versus urban Oregon. There are too many vets who don’t have access to good health care,” Wyden said, adding he generally is in support of having a veterans health
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