Wyden discusses Senate infrastructure bill's impact on Central Oregon

August 18, 2021
Wyden discusses Senate infrastructure bill's impact on Central Oregon

Billions of dollars in federal funding could end up in Central Oregon to enhance wildfire mitigation, support drought-weary farmers, rebuild water systems and establish quality broadband internet across the region, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said at a press conference Wednesday.

He was referring to funds he helped secure in the sweeping $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed by the U.S. Senate Aug. 10. The bill still must pass in the House.

Wyden was joined Wednesday by multiple community leaders to discuses how the bill could impact Central Oregon.

“Central Oregon communities need real investments now to deal with punishing wildfires, the horrendous drought, the lack of rural broadband and a whole lot more,” Wyden said outside of the Oregon Department of Transportation offices in Bend, where the conference was held.

Wyden said he supported and advocated for multiple investments included in the bill that would directly impact Central Oregon, such as:

• $5 billion to secure Oregon’s power grid from extreme weather and to prevent wildfires.

• $5 billion to respond to Oregon’s drought.

• $250 million to help improve drinking water and services for tribal communities in Oregon and nationwide, including the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

• Additional funding — $290 million for three more years — for the Secure Rural Schools program that assists struggling rural communities by funding essential needs like schools and emergency services.

• $6 billion for wildfire risk mitigation.

• $65 billion to connect all Americans to reliable broadband internet access, including in rural Oregon communities.

Wilson Wewa, representing the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, thanked Sen. Wyden for his commitment to securing funds for Warm Springs.

“Our water infrastructure is literally crumbling,” Wewa said. “Some of the pipes installed in the 1890s made of wood and clay are still in use on our reservation.”

Gary Farnsworth, regional manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation, outlined some of the ways the bill would strengthen Central Oregon’s roads and transportation systems.

“The needs are endless,” he said. “Costs are continuing to climb tremendously for fixing the roads, fixing the pavement, fixing the sidewalks, fixing the signals, adding signals — as much as we scramble to bring things together, we can’t do this without our federal partners.”

Farnsworth said that all infrastructure works together, and that funding things like wildfire mitigation and access to broadband simultaneously strengthens other systems.

“These infrastructure developments come together for ODOT,” he said. “We don’t want to have to deal with wildfires, and broadband is becoming huge for us to manage our systems. These systems all play together.”

Dave Burger, representing the Central Oregon Building and Construction Trades Council, and Garth Finley, representing the Northwest Carpenters Union, both discussed job creation through the bill.

“Wages, hours and working conditions are the core of our work, but those only matter if we have jobs,” Burger said. “Sen. Wyden’s plan would not only create good jobs for Oregon building trades members, but also a pathway into registered apprenticeships and training programs for women and people of color.”

Finley agreed.

“Coming together to pass investments like this will strengthen union jobs and working families in Central Oregon for decades to come,” Finley said. “This work is critical for bridging the urban-rural divide. We’re not just building infrastructure. We’re building connections.”

Central Electric Cooperative CEO Dave Markham said that mitigating fire risk through utility investments is essential.

“The wildfires that Oregonians have experienced stress the need and the urgency of this critically important legislation,” Markham said.

North Unit Irrigation District Manager Mike Britton spoke about how investments would help struggling farmers.

“The infrastructure package includes $5 billion for drought relief and funding to help farmers, ranchers and communities respond to the drought,” Britton said. “Farmers are in dire straits and we need this infusion of funding.”

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