Timber, levees and affordable housing top Oregon delegation priorities

Sen. Wyden is leading the call for a full investigation on Trump’s Russia ties. But Oregon’s senior senator and the rest of delegation aren’t neglecting their home state. 

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Here’s a short overview of key bills co-sponsored by the Oregon delegation. 

Levee system

Oregon’s congressional leaders are urging support of a feasibility study work plan for the Portland Metropolitan Flood Protection Project in the form of a letter sent March 6 to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Doug Lamont, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. The project concerns five levee districts spanning 27-miles along the Columbia River. These levees are the first line of defense in case of a flood.

The letter — signed by Wyden, Sen. Merkley, Rep. Blumenauer, Rep. Bonamici, Rep. DeFazio and Rep. Schrader — says the leaders recognize the timing of the work plan is unknown and entirely dependent on further congressional action.

“However, this is a critical project for our region and any final FY17 work plan would be incomplete without including this project as one of the limited number of new start feasibility studies,” the letter says. “This study will assess the appropriate level of flood risk reduction for the Portland metropolitan levee system as a whole, an area that suffered staggering losses when the levees breached in 1948, resulting in at least 15 deaths and permanently displacing the entire Vanport community.”

The Oregon delegation continued to suggest social and economic changes near the levee demand federal investigation.

“The Corps itself has concluded, ‘The changes in land use this area has experienced, coupled with evolving knowledge about levee performance, have caused a substantial increase in the system’s risk profile and potential consequences from a major flood event. Therefore this requires a federal investment to reduce risk and ensure a consistent level of protection across the entire system.’ We could not agree more,” the letter continues.

Affordable housing

Wyden and Sen. Merkley, Wyden introduced a bill March 7 to address the affordable housing crisis. The bill expands a federal low-income housing tax credit.

“This legislation provides a solid foundation for the major remodel that America’s housing policy needs in response to the lack of affordable housing for people of all ages,” Wyden said. “Building on the proven success of the low-income housing credit ensures that more Americans can have a roof over their heads where they can be safe.”

Known as the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act, the legislation would expand the tax credit by 50%. It also aims to create an additional 400,000 affordable housing units nationwide over the next 10 years.

“I’ve heard from Oregonians who have to dedicate the majority of their income to housing or who are forced into homelessness because they simply can’t meet rising costs of housing,” Merkley said. “This legislation will begin to address the housing costs that have spiraled far beyond workers’ wage increases, and provide permanent homes for more American families.”

Since the credit went into effect 30 years ago, it has provided financing for 37,000 affordable Oregon homes and 3 million nationwide.

Timber Innovation Act

Along with Merkley, Bonamici and Schrader, Wyden signed on to the Timber Innovation Act, which was introduced March 7. The act would create federal grants to support research and development into mass timber technology applications. 

Oregon Business first reported on Oregon’s mass timber initiatives here. Companies like D.R. Johnson Wood Innovations are manufacturing cross-laminated timber for use in new construction, including the Framework building in Portland.

D.R. Johnson’s CEO Valerie Johnson says she applauds Congress for presenting the bill.

“As the nation’s first certified manufacturer of cross-laminated timber, my team has worked with architects, engineers and researchers to pioneer mass timber construction in the U.S,” Johnson says. “We’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish thus far and know that focused investment in this emerging sector can be a game changer. Mass timber construction can drive the green building revolution of the 21st century and catalyze job creation in rural areas. It is a win-win.”

Secure Rural Schools funding

Wyden is pushing to reauthorize SRS funding. The money compensates counties for declining timber revenues on federally-owned land. The SRS program has brought nearly $4 billion to timber counties and schools since 2000.

Absent SRS renewal, the Forest Service will pay 25% of the federal timber sale revenue generated in each county to Oregon. This payment was mandated as part of the 1908 Forest Service 25% program, the original revenue-sharing program between federal agencies and counties. Projections put the total Forest Service contribution at $7 million. By comparison the last round of SRS payments in March 2016 brought in $95.2 million to Oregon.

“Oregon counties depend on SRS funding to help pay for good schools, safe roads and reliable law enforcement,” Wyden said. “While I am glad the 25% (forest service) payments came through, these reduced funds highlight the importance of restoring the robust support that SRS has long provided. I will keep working on a long-term solution to give rural counties in Oregon and across the country certainty to plan their budgets and provide crucial resources to their citizens.”

Shortline and regional railroads

Responding to concerns about gaps in the freight rail network, Wyden wants to rehabilitate the state’s regional and shortline tracks. The senator has introduced a bill to make a tax credit for railroads permanent.

“These railroads play an essential role in creating good jobs throughout Oregon by providing a crucial link in the chain to move goods made and grown in our state to factories, grain elevators, mills, and other parts of the economy,” he said.

Wyden added that the track maintenance tax credit provides certainly to railroads looking to make track investments.

The program provides a 50% tax credit on shortline and regional railroads for maintenance expenses — up to $3,500 per mile. In Oregon there are 1,292 miles of freight track, which comprise 15 railroads.

Rep. Greg Walden, of course, is playing a key role in the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act. As for the 470,000 Oregonians who received coverage under the ACA, or the 1 million Oregonians enrolled in Medicaid, the impact is unclear.

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