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Pollution authority falls victim to politics.

Byline: Diane Dietz The Register-Guard

The Lane County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday parsed the Lane Regional Air Pollution's recent problems and determined that it's mainly politics.

It's not that the authority is adopting draconian rules to hinder businesses. In fact, the LRAPA board hasn't adopted many rules at all in the past five years, interim LRAPA director Jim Johnson said.

It's not that LRAPA - the only locally controlled air pollution authority in the state - has antagonized counterparts at the state Department of Environmental Quality, which oversees air quality in the rest of Oregon.

Andrew Ginsburg, the top state air quality official ,was on hand at the meeting to say that LRAPA does a bang-up job.

LRAPA is successful, Commissioner Anna Morrison said after the meeting. "No one is disputing that."

So why, Commissioner Bobby Green asked, should the county commissioners threaten to pull funding from a successful agency?

"I wouldn't want to advocate dissolving it (simply) because you have adults not able to cooperate," Green said. "There's a lot of sand being kicked in the sandbox."

The fate of the 37-year-old regional cooperative agency has been in doubt in the past month after a power struggle between LRAPA member cities Eugene and Springfield broke out.

In the following weeks, Springfield and the board of commissioners decided to withhold half of their annual contribution to LRAPA operations. Both governments plan further discussion before releasing the remaining payment to LRAPA.

Green asked Johnson for a frank assessment of the situation. Johnson, a former city manager of Eugene, is a respected bureaucrat who was hired as caretaker for LRAPA in January after the board forced the previous director out of the job.

"Let's have the unsanitized version, so that it's real clear what we're talking about," Green said.

It's a problem of unfounded "assumptions and perceptions" by the eight LRAPA board members, Johnson replied.

"There is a perception and assumption being made by the city of Springfield, for example, that gee whiz, Eugene might have more appointment authority over board members, therefore it may head toward more stringent regulation - more public health direction - than has been the case in the past," Johnson said.

"Assumptions being made by the Eugene City Council are the organization is clearly benefiting industry and we need to have it get more stringent with its rules and adopt more of a public health kind of philosophy," Johnson added.

"Both Eugene and Springfield are discounting the more moderate, middle-of-the-road board members, who know we need a balance of enforcement, a balance of public health and cooperation with industry to make sure that the jobs stay there," he said.

Johnson added that his search for a permanent director to run LRAPA has been hampered by the discussion of whether the agency should be abolished. "All five of the governments should be telling the board of directors to `Get your act together,' ' he said.

Besides Eugene, Springfield and Lane County, Cottage Grove and Oakridge are part of LRAPA's founding agreement.

Green asked county staff members to draft a resolution for consideration next week that would direct the LRAPA board to hire a new director, write a long-term strategic plan and "move on."

Springfield, meanwhile, is holding onto its half-share of the LRAPA budget until city councilors see who LRAPA chooses for a newly created LRAPA board position.

The original fight was over the political views of other prospective board members. Some Springfield councilors feared Eugene would achieve a majority on the board and pass laws that would hamper business.

Springfield Councilor Dave Ralston said he wants Springfield to maintain a presence on the LRAPA board no matter what happens. The city is home to most of Lane County's largest pollution emitting firms, which are subject to LRAPA regulation. "Until the time comes that LRAPA is done away with, we're going to stay in there to represent our businesses," Ralston said.
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Title Annotation:Government; A power struggle between Eugene and Springfield is at the center of LRAPA's woes
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 7, 2005
Previous Article:Come on, Eugene - let's belt one out.
Next Article:State police issue report on shooting.

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