LONG CREEK — Just a day before the Canyon Creek Complex fire forced residents to evacuate from their homes, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley told those attending a town hall meeting in Long Creek that more assistance is needed to fight wildfires in the state.
“Here we’re in the middle of a bunch of fires” and there are too few resources to spread around, Merkley said at the Aug. 13 meeting at the Long Creek Community Center.
“Sen. (Ron) Wyden (D-Ore.) and I have been advocating for a fix to this,” he added.
The two Democratic senators are seeking a federal budget amendment that would increase funding for firefighting by 100 percent of the average cost to fight fires over the past 10 years, Merkley said.
He noted that the fire season has increased by 60 days and that changes in climate and forest management and a “lack of investment” in thinning national forests pose a higher threat of fire than ever.
Responding to a question about how cellphone service can be improved in rural areas, Merkley agreed that the inability to use cellphones created a public safety issue as well as an economic issue.
He said federal funding is being dedicated to increase universal broadband in rural areas, but little was available for cellphone service. Merkley said he would look into the problem.
Merkley also discussed the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, supported by President Barack Obama. He said that after reading the agreement, he had several concerns about minimum wages, environmental and labor standards in the other participating countries and the economic liability the proposed agreement might generate for the United States.
The senator also fielded questions involving the proposed international agreement with Iran, the polarization of Congress and how Grant County can prepare for the large number of tourists expected during the total eclipse in 2017.
As he was wrapping up the town hall, Merkley was interrupted by Long Creek cattle rancher Sharon Livingston, who has been a vocal critic of new rules defining the waters of the U.S. protected under the federal Clean Water Act, known as WOTUS.
Livingston told Merkley that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy should be fired.
“Bring water rights back to Oregon and get EPA and Gina McCarthy out,” Livingston said to loud applause.
Merkley responded that the EPA was instituting a “whole series of protections.”
The EPA, he added, would “ensure that farming and ranching are not unfairly impinged upon” and still have an adequate water supply.