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Greg W.
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  • Hermiston Reversionary Lands Act

    by Representative Greg Walden

    Posted on 2014-05-28

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    WALDEN. I thank the chairman and the members of the Natural Resources Committee for their work that brought this legislation to the floor.

    Mr. Speaker, H.R. 3366, the Hermiston Reversionary Interest Release Act, is very important to the city of Hermiston--as you all have heard--to Umatilla County, and to Oregon State University, so I appreciate being able to speak in support of it today.

    Oregon--and the nearly 70,000 square miles that I represent in my district--is full of unique landscapes, ranging from high deserts to green valleys, which produce more than 220 different agricultural crops.

    Farmers in this part of Oregon, the Columbia Basin, grow crops from commodities--like corn and wheat--to specialty crops--like onions, potatoes, asparagus, and, of course, the world-famous Hermiston watermelons.

    In fact, Umatilla County is the second highest agricultural producing county in the State of Oregon, with sales topping $487 million annually.

    Agriculture has always been the economic backbone of Umatilla County. However, growth of the industry would not have been maintained without significant innovation in what types of crops are grown and in improvements in production techniques.

    The land that this legislation deals with was conveyed to the State of Oregon and then to Oregon State University by the Federal Government. It is the home of the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center, capably and ably managed by Superintendent Phil Hamm, with whom we have worked closely on this legislation.

    This center has fueled these innovations, and it has helped growers in the region maximize the use of precious water, fight off new pests and diseases, and achieve record-breaking yields.

    This commonsense legislation simply places the home of the research center back fully under local control by removing the retained reversionary interest. This bill also conveys 6 acres of land that were orphaned from the station after the construction of a railroad line.

    This release and conveyance provides the flexibility OSU needs to better manage the station for the future benefit of area farmers and to meet the needs of the city of Hermiston, eastern Oregon's largest city.

    When this land was originally conveyed in 1954, the Hermiston population was fewer than 4,000 people, and the research station was located well out of town. Today, with a population of 16,745 people, the research facilities now lie within the city limits of Hermiston, presenting potential challenges to growth in the future.

    Despite economic and population growth in the last 60 years, the needs of farmers have not changed much. They still rely upon the quality work done by researchers at the station to grow top-notch crops and to create jobs in the region.

    Unfortunately, as station managers try to plot the path for continued viability of the station as the city continues to grow, they find their hands tied by the reversionary interest the Federal Government maintains over the property.

    Commonsense opportunities that could generate additional revenue for research, like siting a cell tower on a small portion of the property that can't be farmed, are passed over because of these improvement restrictions.

    Also, if the need arises in the future, the reversionary interest stands in the way of the relocation of the facility, which would provide additional economic opportunities for the city, while maintaining the research capabilities at a site better suited for agriculture production, rather than being stuck between industrial sites or residential communities.

    By removing the reversionary interest, H.R. 3366 removes these hurdles and provides opportunities for economic and job growth for the local [[Page H4858]] community, which is why it has been strongly supported by farmers in the area, by the city of Hermiston, and by the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners as well.

    For farmers in the Columbia Basin, it is a way for valuable agriculture research to continue into the future, bringing new techniques they need to tackle new challenges as they continue to feed and clothe the world.

    For Oregon State University, it provides the flexibility they need to ensure they continue their mission of providing the quality research they have provided in the area for decades.

    Again, I want to thank the staff on the committee, as well as my own staff--Riley Bushue and Thomas Griffin--for their work on this legislation.

    I would ask my colleagues to join me in supporting this important piece of legislation.

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