Even as the overall economic picture in the Mid-Willamette
Valley has improved, the rural communities in the North
Santiam River Canyon continue to recover from nearly three
decades of economic distress spurred by the collapse of a
once vibrant timber economy. Beginning in 1990, the rural
timber communities of Mill City, Gates, Detroit and Idanha
in Marion County, Oregon found themselves constrained
by the habitat protection of the Northern Spotted Owl
under the Endangered Species Act. A series of federal
forest management acts followed, which significantly
curtailed the timber harvesting industry, the primary
economic engine in the Canyon. In 2000, a $15 million
recovery package was approved by the U.S. Congress to
aid and offset the loss of their primary local industry in the
region resulting from the changes in federal policy. In compliance
with the agreement, the North Santiam Economic Opportunity Study was completed and submitted to federal regulators to plan for the distribution of the aid. However, the aid was not further appropriated by the U.S. Congress and the promised funds never materialized.
Logging crew in Mill City in the early 1900s.
Courtesy of the North Santiam Historical Society.
In 2014, The Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments updated the original 2000 study and further explored the needs of the distressed rural timber communities of Mill City, Gates, Detroit and Idanha. The communities reside along a pristine North Santiam River in a narrow canyon on Oregon Hwy 22. The report provided focus for state and county officials as it highlighted the need for repair and large scale investments in basic infrastructure. Insufficient infrastructure was cited as the primary discouraging factor from employers from locating or expanding businesses in this beautiful area. The report detailed critical infrastructure gaps within the North Santiam Canyon communities that are increasingly becoming cost prohibitive to repair and maintain, further complicated by land use permitting and the dynamic geology of the region. The lack of and deteriorating nature of the infrastructure assets coupled with diminishing population and reduced tax receipts have denied them the financial resources needed to make the vital long term investments.
Where there is a desire in each community to expand business and employment options, but not a capacity to actually accomplish it, city, county, state and federal partners have prioritized infrastructure development in the North Santiam communities over the next few years to address the underlying foundational base for rural economic development. The strategic targeting of the North Santiam communities allows for the leveraging of diverse public and private resources to spur complementary economic investments. The regional approach focuses on basic infrastructure for water, sewer, broadband internet, health, employment, housing and transportation that allows for the sustainable protection of the rural lifestyle the North Santiam Canyon communities desire.