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Mon, May 20

Marvin's Window: Devastation comes to former hometown in Oregon

As I gazed out my new window, I was looking north and remembering younger days in Oregon and Washington.

I read a lot of news reports about the area where I grew up and worked until 1968.

My relatives and friends keep me informed and I visit them and former high school students I taught near The Dalles, Ore.

Back in the 1960s, Sherman County, a rural farm community that grows wheat, was one of the richest counties in America on a per capita basis.

The young men in my agriculture classes from that era are the farmers and community leaders struggling today to continue farming on inherited land.

I sat on the high plateau above the Columbia River in the 1960s with students from our small high school to watch the lake form behind the John Day Dam, the last one constructed on the Columbia River.

The sons of the men who constructed that mass of concrete were in my shop classes.

They had moved to Sherman County from Page, Ariz., with their families after construction of Glen Canyon Dam.

The entire mid-Columbia area was excited about the new aluminum plant opening across the Columbia in Goldendale, Wash.

It was bringing a lot of high-paying new jobs.

People knew what that would mean because the aluminum plant downriver at the city of The Dalles below The Dalles Dam had boosted the economy a few years earlier.

The aluminum jobs and the dams added diversity and good-paying jobs to the basic agriculture, tourist and timber economy of the region.

Those were good days in Sherman County along the mighty Columbia River.

With the completion of the John Day Dam, barges of wheat could move from Lewiston, Idaho, though Washington and Oregon to ocean-going ships in Portland.

Timber, agriculture, transportation and aluminum smelters provided a sound economy and good jobs to the people who lived in the area.

Today, people in the region are losing their homes, standing in line at the local food bank after losing jobs and running out of unemployment benefits.

Logging and sawmill jobs are gone, mostly lost in the decade of the '90s as environmentalists fought with the U.S.

Forest Service and closed the forests to logging.

They camped in trees around Mt.

Hood anytime a timber sale was announced.

Oregon lost 60,000 timber employees between 1990 and 1998.

More than half the thousands of timber products workers left the industry in those eight years.

Most disappeared from the work rolls.

The northern spotted owl and other protected species on federal lands are still there.

Just 18,000 of the timber industry employees found other jobs in Oregon, according to a recent economic study.

Most were in low-paying service jobs.

The aluminum industry all across Oregon, Washington and Idaho has shut down to save electric power for others.

The industry came to the Northwest over the years to take advantage of low-cost hydroelectric power on the Columbia River system.

Today, the Bonneville Power Administration pays as much for programs for fish as it does for power generation.

Some years ago the voters of Oregon and Washington stopped all nuclear power plant construction in the region.

They went so far as to shut down a nuclear generating plant west of Portland.

The agreement cost the region's taxpayers the cost of the plant and the profits the electric company would make over the 40 year of the facility and the electric power.

Dams along in the Northwest have been targeted for destruction in favor of fish over the past decades.

Four dams along the lower Snake River east of The Dalles are still endangered by court cases.

An economy based on low- cost electric power, timber and agriculture has been devastated.

The last industry to move was Seattle's anchor, Boeing, and its huge workforce of people building aircraft.

The highest current unemployment rate in the U.S.

is in Oregon and Washington.

Two of the "high tech" companies that have grown in the last 20 years to build some new jobs are under attack.

Microsoft is the new giant in Seattle.

Nike is the big, homegrown company in Portland.

Both are facing legal challenges; Microsoft for alleged monopolistic practices and Nike for alleged labor practices around the world where their products are manufactured.

Maybe the economy will get so bad in Oregon and Washington that local folks will want to make Nike shoes for wages paid in Asian areas!

Do social issues have unintended consequences that impact the daily lives of people?

You decide.

Folks in food lines in The Dalles have made their decision.


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