- Associated Press - Monday, September 21, 2015

The Bend Bulletin, Sept. 18, on making union dues voluntary for public employees:

Oregonians may not be asked to decide if this should be a so-called right-to-work state next year. The chief sponsor of a ballot measure that would make union dues voluntary for public employees has said she’s considering dropping the initiative.

Jill Gibson, a Portland lawyer who has worked on similar proposals in the past, is unhappy with the ballot title for her petition written by the Secretary of State’s Office. Among her complaints is a portion of the title that says “non-union public employees may benefit from union bargaining without sharing representation costs.”

The secretary of state’s title was upheld by the Oregon Supreme Court on Sept. 10.

While the language approved by the court clearly does reflect one result of a “yes” vote on Gibson’s proposed measure, other outcomes seem equally likely. The man who wrote the title, Matthew Lysne, a senior assistant attorney general, told The Oregonian he agreed with arguments by public employee union officials who argued the measure would create a “free-rider”effect.

That does not change one basic fact: While public employees may opt out of union membership in this state, they must pay dues to a union they do not want to join. They may ask to be reimbursed for money that union spends on politicking but must pay for unwanted union representation at the bargaining table.

Gibson clearly believes that’s wrong. This is the second time, in fact, in as many years she’s tried to give all Oregonians a say in the matter, to no avail.

Now, she says, she will talk to her donors and decide whether to give up the fight and wait to see what the U.S. Supreme Court has to say about a California right-to-work case in its next session.

Whatever she does, she shouldn’t let her effort simply die. Oregon’s public unions have a stranglehold on too much that goes on in this state, from education to the department of transportation and the state library. A right-to-work measure could break that stranglehold, but it must make it to the ballot with a reasonable title first.

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The (Eugene) Register-Guard, Sept. 19, on mines threatening clean waterways:

As salmon return to Oregon rivers this fall, thousands of anglers from near and far flood local communities to take sporting advantage of some of the best salmon runs in decades. Unfortunately, salmon runs in some of Oregon’s most productive and pristine watersheds - the Rogue, Illinois, North Fork Smith, Pistol Rivers and Hunter Creek - are threatened by a series of proposed industrial strip mines.

The streams directly threatened by the mines have exceptionally clean water, providing drinking water to residents in Josephine and Curry counties in Oregon and in Crescent City, Calif., and provide excellent habitat for steelhead and salmon to spawn. Mining, road construction and metal processing would devastate this fragile wild area.

Statewide, salmon fishing pumps more than $1 billion into the economy annually. Oregon ranks first in the Pacific Northwest and seventh in the nation for the number of anglers coming from out of state to spend money here, roughly $250 million a year. The Wild and Scenic Rogue River alone contributes $16 million every year to the economy of Southwest Oregon.

Healthy, self-sustaining, harvestable salmon and steelhead runs are simply good for business.

The recent spill of 3 million gallons of toxic mining waste into the Animas River in Colorado should be a wake-up call for Oregonians. While we continue to deal with a legacy of mining pollution in Oregon rivers, with more than 500 abandoned mines and 100 that are deemed to be a safety risk, federal agencies are asking for input from the public on new mines proposed for some of Oregon’s most pristine rivers that supply clean drinking water and prime salmon habitat.

A mine in the Umpqua River watershed is a federally designated toxic waste site after leaking acid pollution degrading 13 miles of salmon and steelhead habitat. According to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, a foreign-owned mining company saddled taxpayers with approximately $20 million in cleanup costs by abandoning the mine.

While another foreign-owned mining conglomerate is now seeking to conduct exploratory drilling in Southwest Oregon, opposition to the mines and support for permanent protection of the area is growing. Last week overflow crowds of nearly 300 spoke in favor of protecting these wild and scenic rivers in Gold Beach and Grants Pass.

Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Rep. Peter DeFazio have led the charge to protect the area by introducing legislation that withdraws the area from mining additional mining claims.

The importance of protecting clean water and our fishing heritage from industrial mining is nothing new to these men. Wyden and DeFazio have been champions for protecting clean water, rivers and the salmon-based economy of this area for more than 15 years.

DeFazio has also been the leader in calling for reform the antiquated and costly Mining Law of 1872 that gives multi-national mining companies billions of dollars in subsidies to operate on our public lands.

The U.S. Forest Service and BLM put a temporary halt to any new mining claims while they solicit input about the future of these wild rivers in Southwest Oregon. The agencies are taking public input on this issue through Sept. 28 at [email protected]

As former Oregon Gov. Tom McCall once said about protecting our valuable natural places, “Oregon is demure and lovely, and it ought to play a little hard to get.” Like McCall, Wyden, Merkley and DeFazio understand the value of balancing development with permanently protecting Oregon’s clean water, wild rivers and salmon strongholds.

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The (Albany) Democrat-Herald, Sept. 19, on juveniles and marijuana use:

Even though it had moments when it veered close to invoking the spirit of that camp movie classic “Reefer Madness,” we think state Rep. Andy Olson and other Linn County officials raised some important issues during their Thursday night meeting on marijuana.

Olson and other officials are concerned that marijuana use among juveniles may increase now that recreational use of pot is legal in Oregon in the wake of Measure 91.

That’s a legitimate concern, especially as evidence begins to mount that the drug has outsized effects on developing brains. A 2014 story from NPR reported on a growing number of studies concluding that regular marijuana use (defined as once a month or so) changes the structure of the teenage brain, specifically in areas dealing with memory and problem solving. (As efforts to legalize marijuana gain steam throughout the nation, this is an area that could benefit from additional study, not to mention federal research dollars.)

A recent federal study found that 60 percent of high school seniors believed that marijuana is safe, and 23 percent said they’ve used marijuana in the last month - more than those who used alcohol or smoked cigarettes.

Of course, Measure 91 doesn’t make it legal for minors to smoke marijuana; in fact, the measure made it clear that legalization applied only to adults. But the question remains: Will the growth of recreational pot use in Oregon make it easier for teenagers to access weed?

On that question, the jury still is out, in part because we’re only a few months into legalization - and sales of marijuana still aren’t legal. (That will start to change on Oct. 1, when medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed to sell the drug for recreational use, but any responsible dispensary will be stringent about ensuring that it’s not selling to minors. Our guess is that teens who use marijuana still will rely on the same sources they use now to get the drug, even as marijuana sales become commonplace. And let’s be honest: It may be easier now for teenagers to get marijuana than it is for them to buy alcohol.)

Linn County had 80 youth referrals for marijuana last year; county officials expect that number to increase this year, and it will be interesting to track the trend.

A related area may prove to be even more troublesome: edible products, such as cookies and candies and sodas, that can contain unexpectedly high doses of tetrahydrocannabinol, the drug’s mild-altering ingredient. (The federal Centers for Disease Control says that 45 percent of all marijuana sales in Colorado, one of the states that has pioneered legalization, involve edible marijuana.) Since edibles take much longer to affect the body than smoked marijuana, that increases the risk of overdose, especially with new users. Here’s an area where the state is going to have to exercise some stringent oversight.

The bottom line: We still have plenty of questions to answer as we continue down the path of legalization. Olson and his colleagues are asking some of the right questions.

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The Statesman Journal, Sept. 20, on Oregon roads and bridges:

Oregon is so behind in replacing highway bridges that each one, on average, will have to last 900 years. And instead of getting major repairs every 30 to 50 years, as should happen, each bridge will have to wait more than 100 years on average.

Meanwhile, congestion, crashes and economic disruption increase.

Don’t blame state bureaucracy. The fault rests with politicians - and the public.

Oregon traffic fatalities have risen 31 percent this year, as of Sept. 14. Roads and bridges built decades ago are not equipped to handle today’s traffic. Commuters and freight haulers spend more time in congestion every year.

If Oregon is to reverse that trend, the momentum must come from the public. Consumer, civic and business groups must form a united front that forces the Legislature to act soon instead of stalling.

Oregon’s governor and legislators agreed this year that the state needed a major financing plan to upgrade bridges and highways. But their agreement was hollow, undermined by personal egos and party politics.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, recently called out incumbents and political candidates, telling them to prepare to pass a transportation plan in the 2017 Legislature.

Republicans said that’s too late. But the political reality - the reality that only public pressure can change - is that neither party is eager for action before then.

Voters consistently have disliked statewide gas tax and fee increases to finance transportation projects. So any transportation plan in the Legislature needs strong bipartisan and public support. Otherwise, legislators will fear voting for it, and interest groups will launch petition drives to force a voter referendum on the plan.

Both parties worry that a pro-gas tax vote will hurt them in the 2016 elections. Republican incumbents worry about tea party challengers in their party primary; Democrats worry about giving Republicans a campaign issue for the general election.

Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans remain at odds over the Low Carbon Fuel Standard that Democrats rammed through the Legislature this year. There’s a good chance that program will be referred to voters next year, so Republicans should forget trying to repeal it in the 2016 session. Legislators instead should show courage and develop an economically viable and politically palatable transportation plan.

The need is clear. For example, the Marion and Center street bridges in Salem await more than $100 million in repairs - not counting the price for seismic renovations.

Oregon cannot wait for federal help. The federal government provided only 14.3 percent of the money for the $70 million Woodburn interchange on Interstate 5. The project was sorely needed, and Oregon completed it a year ahead of schedule.

If Oregon is to have safer, more-efficient roads and bridges, it’s up to Oregonians to act.

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The Oregonian, Sept. 19, on Oregon’s timber industry:

Oregon’s timber industry will never be what it once was. The state’s annual timber harvest is about half what it was 30 years ago, and employment in the wood products industry has fallen by a similar amount. With dozens of mills closed, many of those jobs wouldn’t come back even if harvests increased dramatically. But is there a chance that what remains of the industry that once defined Oregon can reinvent itself in a way that would bring back at least a portion of the more than 30,000 jobs that have been lost since the mid-1980s?

The past two weeks brought evidence that such hope exists in the form of a product called cross-laminated timber (CLT). DR Johnson Lumber of Riddle became the first U.S. company to be certified to produce cross-laminated timber. Also, a Pearl District project involving local real estate developer Project (the symbol is part of the company’s name) and architecture firm Lever was named one of two winners in the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize Competition. The planned 12-story building, which was entered into the contest by The Framework Project LLC, will be constructed primarily from cross-laminated timber.

So what is cross-laminated timber, why is it a big deal and how much potential does it have to help revive Oregon’s wood products industry? Cross-laminated timber is actually a large panel that is assembled from multiple layers of wood. The middle is made from lower-value wood with higher-value wood on the outside, said Thomas Maness, dean of the Oregon State University College of Forestry. Once assembled, the panels are customized with openings for windows and doors and slots for wiring, and then shipped as a package. “You can almost think of this technology as a massive Ikea cabinet,” Maness said.

The exciting thing about cross-laminated timber for Oregon is that it fits the state like custom rain gear. It’s a sustainable product - the wood sequesters carbon. The panels also require less energy to produce than cement, which emits carbon during the manufacturing process. The wood panels burn slowly, reducing safety concerns. And the panels can be made from smaller-diameter timber than many wood products. Demand for the product is strong in Europe and is growing in the United States and Canada, particularly on the West Coast. Asia is another growth market that Oregon is well-positioned to serve. As an added bonus, the fir produced in Oregon is ideal for this new wood product.

In short, the engineered panels are a piece of the move toward more sustainable buildings, and Oregon is ideally located to become the U.S. leader in the technology. So, just how big could this emerging industry become, and how many jobs could it produce?

DR Johnson currently has about 100 workers at DR Johnson Lumber and Riddle Laminators. Chief Operating Officer John Redfield said the company has hired five to eight workers because of the expansion into CLT, which included using company employees to build and adjust equipment needed to produce the new product. Workers already with the company were trained and promoted for the new jobs, with new workers hired to perform their former tasks. He said the plan is to “start slow and grow with the market.”

In Europe, CLT plants generally employ 200 to 400 workers, Maness said. He projected that Oregon could support as many as a half-dozen plants. A projected gain of 1,200 to 2,400 jobs is a pretty small number for an industry that has lost so many. But the hope is that cross-laminated timber will be just the first of several new wood products to flow out of Oregon factories.

Construction is scheduled to begin in March on a building at OSU for the National Center for Advanced Wood Products Manufacturing and Design. The joint effort of the Oregon State forestry school and the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts will focus on development of innovative wood products that can be made in Oregon, with emphasis on those that can be used in multi-story, multi-use buildings.

Maness said researchers could explore topics such as wood densification, which could lead to harder and more durable floor surfaces, and improved acoustics. The general goal: Add more value to wood products. Even if the resulting products are exported, high-paying jobs will have been created here. It’s a much better economic play than exporting raw logs. And many of those jobs will be at plants in struggling rural communities, such as Riddle.

Much work remains before the state reaps a big payoff from these efforts. Competition surely will arise elsewhere. But Oregon is off to a good start and has some competitive advantages. Maness is well aware of the stakes. “We’ve got to figure out how to do this right or we’re not going to have any rural communities,” he said.


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