(The Center Square) – Business Oregon and the U.S. Forest Service signed an agreement last week to fund the full $15 million Opal Creek Promise.
“This funding has been nearly 30 years in the making and is a major achievement for Marion County and everyone who lives or visits the Santiam Canyon,” U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, said in a press release. “Sen. Hatfield saw the opportunity for the Opal Creek Wilderness and led the dedication in 1996, and today, we are able to fulfill that promise and secure the full $15 million that was originally authorized.”
In 1996, 37,500 acres of forest received a designation as the Opal Creek Wilderness. In response, Congress authorized $15 million in federal funding “to support economic development and secure support from communities in the Santiam Canyon for the legislation,” according to the release.
After the 2020 Labor Day fires, Merkley used his role as Chair of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee to include Opal Creek Promise funding in the fiscal year 2023 disaster supplemental.
Combined with $3 million in previous funding from community-initiated project awards, the $12 million will help Marion County and the surrounding region to recover from wildfires while bolstering its long-term economic development, according to the release.
“The citizens of the Santiam Canyon have waited for almost 30 years for Congress to deliver on this promise,” Marion County Commissioner Kevin Cameron said. “These funds come at a time that will help support recovery from the 2020 wildfires and the continued reduction in sustainable timber harvest. We look forward to this investment making a long-term, positive impact to this beautiful, rural area of Marion County.”