Will Wallowa Lake become Oregon's newest city?
That is the question now before county officials and people who live around the lake.
The issue is at hand because the Wallowa County Planning Department is in the process of completing its review of the county's unincorporated cities, a process mandated by the state. The county has already completed the process in the smaller unincorporated communities of Flora, Imnaha, Minam and Troy.
Wallowa Lake, of course, is a different animal because of the complexities of land use issues involved. The county has been wrestling with many of these issues for years. For example, the county just completed a sweeping ordinance, Article 44, which spells out guidelines for new construction in the Wallowa Lake basin. It took the county more than five years to complete that planning process as planners struggled to balance the needs of protecting scenic, geologic, wildlife, historic, and other values with the need to uphold private property rights.
The county planning department and board of commissioners frequently deal with many other difficult issues affecting the Wallowa lake basin as well. Here is a partial list of some of the more divisive issues that have come up over the past 10 years or so - parking, fire protection, renovation of the Wallowa Lake dam, the role of the state park, destination resort zoning, a proposed ski area, commercial parasailing and jet ski operations, the regulation of boat docks, logging, short-term rentals, and the Wallowa Lake County Service District. There are more.
Most, if not all, of these issues have been addressed in public forums in which Wallowa Lake residents have no more say than anybody else, even though in many cases, by virtue of owning property in the basin, they have a greater stake in the outcome.
If these residents were organized as a municipality, their collective input on these issues would be much greater. The county planning commission could no longer treat them as a group of individuals but, rather, as an equal - a recognized government agency with all the rights and privileges thereof.
That in itself is a strong argument for incorporation.
Of course there are additional reasons to consider incorporation, including fire protection, road maintenance, and the other services that municipalities typically provide their residents.
Make no mistake about it, though, this will be a big job requiring a huge commitment on the part of the people who will make it happen, most likely volunteers who live in the lake basin and will serve on the city council.
Nevertheless it is an initiative worth investigating. Wallowa Lake is the fastest growing area in the county and has developed to the point where it now needs the checks and balances that a municipality could provide. R.S.