WaCo Commission: Meet Greg Mecklem

Carla Axtman

WaCo Commission: Meet Greg Mecklem

Greg Mecklem

Starting late last year, I began writing about the Urban and Rural Reserves process and mapping for the Metro area. If you read much of this, you likely saw my frustration and deep disappointment with the Washington County Commission. But among the lack of real public say on the Reserves for Washington County as well as the exasperating results of the mapping, a number of people stood out as amazing citizens spokespersons during the public comment period.

One of those people is Greg Mecklem. Mecklem's calm intellect and deep commitment to Washington County was an impressive and refreshing addition to the process. As a result of participating in the process and seeing the dysfunction that permeates the Washington County Commission, Mecklem decided to do something about it: he's a candidate for the 4th District.

Mecklem is wicked smart. Formerly a physician, Mecklem worked with local community members and St. Vincent's to create the Virgina Garcia Memorial Health Center. Mecklem practiced at Virginia Garcia for 20 years while at the same time owning and working Eagle's Nest Forestry. Mecklem is also a successful entrepreneur, having started Pacific Crest Accoyo America, a 200 head alpaca breeding stock operation.

Mecklem also knows his district well. When we talked, his running narrative about the uniqueness of each town and region showed a depth that only comes from living there for many years. He's truly interested in representing the varied interests of the citizens of the district.

We spoke at length about one of the biggest issues that faces the County Commission: land use. Mecklem believes in the importance of maintaining communities that are working. Forest Grove, for example, has it's own water system. "It has a real sense of community identity with a university, BJ's Coffee, Maggie's Buns--community supported businesses." Mecklem expressed concern about the new Wal Mart in adjacent Cornelius which could potentially gut the viability of these local businesses.

Banks and North Plains, says Mecklem, could be swallowed up by sprawl with out appropriate planning. Mecklem warns that this could eradicate the community identification of these places. Without it, local schools and public safety (fire, police) can lose support as citizens lose the sense of the local.

And then there's the water problem. The county doesn't have enough of it to support the aspirations for big development. There are ideas for addressing this issue, but none of them are especially good. Some parts of WaCo get water from Bull Run. Many local leaders are advocating the raising of Hagg Lake, but its a very expensive proposition. So far, the county has lacked the leadership to push less water dependent development.

Another concern expressed not just by Mecklem but by many Washington County residents is the idea of a new road that cuts through a large swath of the county's rural area. This road is often referred to as the West-Side Bypass, and would be a ring road to I-5 that circumvents the Sunset Highway. Mecklem notes that the main problem with such a road is that everything inside the ring would become urbanized, once again threatening Washington County's farmers.

Mecklem noted that the County should continue to work to draw in new business, making the many thousands of square feet of existing real estate sitting empty in the county attractive. We should work to fill up this space as much as possible before trying to expand outward.

By contrast, his opponent Bob Terry supports the large swath of urban reserves as well as LNG lines through the western part of Washington County.

Mecklem has also taken interest in another major issue in the county: the Washington County Fair. There's been a lot of strife surrounding the WaCo Fairgrounds, likely because it's on some of the most valuable land in the region--clashing with those who actually want to use the grounds for the Fair. The Fair boosters complain that hotel/motel taxes that are earmarked for Fair facilities aren't being used for them Mecklem says that those who participate in the Fair should have a say about who serves on the Fair Board as well. Imagine that! Citizens in Washington County actually having a say over stuff.....what a concept! Mecklem says that the Fairgrounds is a potential gold mine for the County: If the county invests $50-100k into the facilities, they could keep pace with other fairs, like Clark County, for example. "If the county has leadership and vision, someone could work with the fair boosters to enhance the economy and the Fair facilities. We could have a state of the art fairgrounds that showcases wine and nursery stock--and a place for major livestock shows." Because its on the MAX line, the fairgrounds could consistently host major events, bringing more money into the local economy. But the lack of foresight and leadership by the County Commission has left the place bereft of any substantial way to do this.

Mecklem says another one of the ways to generate revenue in Washington County is agri-tourism: vineyards/wineries, lavendar farms, berry farms--and they add to the quality of life for residents. "There's a lack of vision by leaders", says Mecklem. "Tree farmers and u-pick farms all make the economy more robust. You don't have to be a large acreage farm to be economically viable." Mecklem says that some Washington County leaders spurn what they call "hobby farms"--yet Mecklem believes these farms draw people from outside the area and employ staff. They drive the economic engine of the county, too. "It's a mistake to discourage agri-tourism," he said.

He also spoke about other issues in which he differs from his opponent. "I favor an emphasis on public transportation with nodes in urban density regions. We should build denser town centers. Major US cities with good infrastructure have the highest personal productivity."

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    Great profile, Carla. Greg really is brilliant, a "Renaissance Man" who truly loves the land and wildlife and people of Washington County communities. To him, we're not just the stage and supporting cast for the ego-satisfying drama of big development schemes or massive road projects. His aspirations for growth in this county have to do with renewable energy, livable neighborhoods, and sustainable rural and urban economies.

    Greg is decisive, but he works WITH people respectfully, and that's so different from the smug attitude of "Oh, how great we are, how much we know, and what fine plans we have for you" that characterises so many current local officials--and their wannabees.

    We need to elect leaders whose thinking isn't stuck in habitual 20th century solutions to complex 21st century problems, in borrowed slogans they don't seem to quite understand, or in the compulsion to overstate "accomplishments". We need public officials who show vision, open-mindedness, clear thinking, respect for facts, and (dare I suggest it?)appropriate humility.

    Fortunately for Washington County and the region, we can have such an official in Greg Mecklem.

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