The Columbia Gorge region is a collection of small towns and rural counties in two states. We are connected through a shared economy, transportation and communication systems, and public agencies. The best and perhaps only way to accomplish big things and address large issues in this context is through collaboration. In the challenging year of 2020, two examples show this necessity of teamwork.
BUILD Grant — Replacement of the Hood River Bridge has long been a critical regional infrastructure priority. The challenges of permitting and financing a new bridge in a rural area are enormous. Yet the Port, in collaboration with Klickitat County, was successful in receiving a $5 million federal grant for the next phase of engineering. This is a crucial financial contribution to maintain project momentum. For perspective, there were 38 awards out of 405 applications nationwide (9%) and this was the only award made in Oregon. Why? Credit goes to many.
The newly minted Bi-State Working Group, composed of six local governments on both sides of the river, demonstrated regional support and alignment of purpose. The application itself clearly articulated the deficiencies of the existing bridge, its role in our regional economy, and the critical need for replacement. Senators Murray, Cantwell, Wyden and Merkley, and Representatives Walden and Herrera-Beutler each signed a letter of support and expressed it directly to the U.S. Department of Transportation. This deep, broad and regional team effort worked.
Hood River County EOC — When the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold in our community in March, Hood River County activated its Emergency Operations Center. The EOC is staffed by volunteers, led by Hood River County Emergency Manager Barbara Ayers, and used to facilitate communications and collaborations during weather or fire-related emergencies. COVID was a whole different scale of emergency. With such broad community impacts, the EOC needed to bring together a wide array of participants including representatives from government, medical providers, law enforcement agencies, food security non-profits, School District, Library, Chamber, ports and others. Enough cannot be said about the effectiveness of the EOC in connecting all those that had major and minor roles in addressing the impacts of COVID. The collaborative spirit, evident in the months of bi-weekly conference calls, was impressive. This community is served well by these dedicated local officials who come together in times of crisis.
Another prime example of effective collaboration is the Mid-Columbia Economic Resiliency Team. This group was organized by MCEDD to address the significant impacts of the COVID crisis on the business community. The MCERT continues to provide effective outreach and communications, particularly about the myriad guidelines and restrictions, and the financial assistance programs offered by federal, state and local governments.
Whether responding to an opportunity or crisis, these examples show that our strength and effectiveness comes from collaboration. Teamwork works.