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Congress can take action | Jerry Cornfield
Sometimes it takes a calamity to move anything through Congress.
In the case of the Green Mountain Lookout, it took a tragedy for federal lawmakers to keep an iconic structure exactly where it is.
A bill sent to President Barack Obama this week will preserve the lookout that’s long been a destination for hikers and a cherished landmark for Darrington residents.
This legislation will reach the president stunningly fast, by congressional standards, thanks to an all-too-rare exhibition of the personal overcoming the political in Washington, D.C.
On March 28, the sixth day after a monstrous mudslide erased an Oso neighborhood and claimed nearly three dozen lives, Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin told members of Washington’s congressional delegation that protecting the lookout would uplift the community’s spirits.
The Senate responded on April 3 by passing the preservation measure. The House approved it Monday and there was not a dissenting voice in either chamber.
“I think that tells you how much everybody wants to do something,” said Sen. Patty Murray, adding Obama shouldn’t wait to act until his visit later this month.
“I want him to sign this and get it done,” she said. “This is a community that needs to stand up and cheer.”
Though success came remarkably quick, Congressman Rick Larsen poured the foundation in June 2012 by introducing the first Green Mountain Lookout Historic Preservation Act.
In 2013, U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, re-introduced it and Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell, co-sponsored an identical bill in the Senate.
Those gathered dust until earlier this year when the Republican majority in the House passed an omnibus public lands measure containing a provision for Green Mountain Lookout.
Democrats said it contained too many unsavory provisions and several, including DelBene and Larsen, voted against it. When it arrived in the Senate where Democrats run things, the bill got permanently parked.
Then, on March 22, the bluff in Oso disappeared, and Rankin made his request on March 28. Murray recalled looking at DelBene and saying: let’s get it done.
The next day Murray phoned Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. She wanted to gauge his willingness to advance a stand-alone bill she hoped to get through the Senate.
“I said it was something we could do to show (residents) we can get this done. To his credit, he said let’s get it done,” she said.
During the next three days, Murray corralled the backing of Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who are the chairwoman and vice-chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Either could have resisted going so fast or sought to attach other pieces of legislation to it. They didn’t. During the talks, Murray learned Murkowski has ties to Darrington as relatives on her mother’s side lived there a long time ago.
The Senate Majority Leader didn’t stand in the way either, and the bill sailed through.
Then Hastings, true to his word, shepherded it through the House.
Before the vote, Larsen said passage would symbolize Congress’ solidarity with the community and send a message that Darrington is open for business.
DelBene said congressional action carried an impact beyond saving a landmark.
“This bill can’t undo what has been done. But, as the mayor of Darrington told me, it can be a piece of good news and a victory for an inspiring community that has gone through so much,” she said.
Rankin described himself as shaking with excitement when DelBene phoned immediately after the vote Monday.
“It was a pretty fantastic moment,” he said. “We got something that was really important for our community.”
Jerry Cornfield is a political reporter who covers Olympia for The Daily Herald in Everett, which is among the Washington state newspapers in the Sound Publishing group. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.