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Politics puts LRAPA on the brink.

Byline: Diane Dietz The Register-Guard

The fate of the Lane Regional Air Pollution Authority is likely to be decided by sundown next Monday.

That's the last chance for the Springfield City Council to withdraw its financial support of the air agency before passage of the annual city budget.

City and county politicians are warning that Springfield's departure would initiate a series of events that ultimately would close the 37-year-old agency early in 2006.

Politicians played a game of brinkmanship over the fate of the agency all last week, but very little of the discussion took place in public meetings.

"These are all just private conversations that we've had on the side," said Lane County Commissioner Faye Stewart, who also sits on the eight-member air board. Stewart said three members of the five-member board of commissioners - if given the chance - would vote in favor of withdrawing from LRAPA.

The same goes for the Springfield City Council, said councilor and LRAPA board member Dave Ralston. "I'm not going to give you names, but I can tell you that the majority of the City Council already does not support LRAPA."

If LRAPA were disbanded, the job of monitoring Lane County's air and regulating local polluters would go to the state Department of Environmental Quality.

The current question at the heart of the LRAPA matter is whether Eugene, Springfield or Lane County will get the upper hand on the air agency's all-appointed board.

In May, Eugene got to add a fourth member in accordance with a population-based formula prescribed by state law. Springfield wants to even the score by seating a second councilor on the board, on which Eugene has one councilor and three citizen appointees. After Eugene's four members, Stewart and Ralston, the rest of the board is made up of an Oakridge city councilor and an at-large member appointed by the air agency board.

Springfield's Ralston said a Eugene-dominated board would be too tough on business. Eugene City Councilor Betty Taylor, also on the LRAPA board, said it would give the agency the fortitude to put public health first.

Political observer Jack Roberts, who is executive director of the Lane Metro Partnership, said that's a false dichotomy that could destroy the agency and hurt the region in the long run.

The week-old dispute comes on the heels of a series of regional strains and stresses over proportioning jail space at the county jail, funding law enforcement and land use planning procedures.

"This is not exactly the golden age of intergovernmental cooperation here, locally anyway," Roberts said.

Smoldering question

The atmosphere was far different in 1964, when the Lane County Board of Commissioners sought to sign on with a one-man, joint Eugene/Springfield air pollution control program.

Fifty wigwams burned within the Eugene-Springfield borders. Wigwams were cast iron cones where lumber mills burned their waste wood, called hogged fuel.

Cinders from two hogged fuel-fired dutch oven boilers in downtown Eugene that supplied steam heat to businesses hung over the city.

Several inches accumulated on downtown roofs, according to Register-Guard coverage at the time.

In those days, some politicians were reluctant to regulate too aggressively.

Eugene Mayor Edwin Cone, for instance, told The Register-Guard in 1965: "We need jobs much more than we need an answer to air pollution."

Still, the cities and county agreed to the 1967 creation of the Lane Regional Air Pollution Authority to guarantee that the cooperative effort persevered after the state Legislature passed a measure prohibiting local governments from regulating air pollution.

Similar agencies were created in Portland and Salem, although LRAPA is the only one that remains.

State law dictated the regional agencies' structure.

Then-Lane County legal counsel Bob Elfers said the design was as stable as a house of cards. The agencies had no power to levy taxes.

"The law may not be as workable as we hope it will be," he said at the time.

Refusal of any of the participating agencies to continue providing its share of financing could force the authority to collapse, he said. "The whole thing is based on cooperating. It may be vulnerable from this standpoint."

The governments occasionally found themselves at odds, spurred by the `split between `good old boys' of Springfield and the `university old folks' of Eugene,'' Don Arkell, agency director in the 1980s, told Robert Reed, who wrote "Lane Regional Air Pollution Authority: History and Issues."

Today, the chief rub on the LRAPA board is between Springfield Councilor Ralston, who is a draftsman at Farwest Steel, and Eugene City Councilor Taylor, a retired English professor.

Backing up

It's unclear now how - or whether - the politicians can ease back from the brink of demolishing LRAPA.

The Eugene-dominated board has refused to consider Springfield Mayor Sid Leiken's nomination of another councilor for the board.

Leiken is opposed to the two citizens who applied under the board's regular procedure.

"The fear is the person that's going to be added might be philosophically aligned with Eugene, although technically from Springfield," Roberts said.

On the other hand, the politicians are showing some signs of softening.

Ralston, for instance, said that although he would rather spend Springfield's share of LRAPA's budget on the DARE anti-drug program, he's unlikely to seek a change this year.

"We cannot leave our businesses hanging out there without representation so - as long as LRAPA exists - we're going to have to be a part of that," he said.

Stewart, on the county board, said the agency does "a lot of good things" and he won't push the issue with colleagues on the county board unless Springfield pulls out.

Leiken said that as long as the governments can come to terms with the representation problem, he won't recommend pulling the city out.

"Personally," Leiken said, "I would rather work with this and keep LRAPA in place at this point in time until another option would present or not present itself."

LRAPA ACCOMPLISHMENTS

The air agency is trying to save itself by touting its advantages. Here are some:

Early clean-up: Between 1965 and 1973, spurred by LRAPA, Eugene-Springfield went from 50 waste wood-burning ovens to five. Today, the agency administers a system that has banned outdoor burning in Eugene and restricted it in other parts of the county.

Regulation: LRAPA regulated emissions at 198 businesses in Lane County. Some say they appreciate dealing with a small, local agency.

Air testing: Today, LRAPA maintains 11 air monitoring sites in Lane County. The most any other county statewide has is three.

Enterprise: LRAPA's Airmetrics program, which manufactures portable air samplers, brings $1 million a year into the county.

Grants: LRAPA brings in $193,000 annually in regular grants and more for one-time special projects.

Initiatives: LRAPA is helping Interstate 5 truckers install small, low-polluting idling engines, aiding school districts to clean up diesel exhaust on school buses and spurring development of biodiesel in the region.
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Title Annotation:Government; Board representation stirs disagreement among officials that could spell the end for the local air regulation agency
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 13, 2005
Words:1142
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