A timber town yells for help

 

Town officials in Forks, Wash., have been pressing state and federal governments to make good on promises to bail out timber towns. They say money promised under President Clinton's 1993 Northwest Economic Adjustment Initiative, which helped timber-dependent towns with federal funds, hasn't reached the communities that need it most.

Now, Forks has convinced the state, which distributes the aid, to extend the program beyond next year and ensure more effective distribution. The Forks dilemma dates to the early 1990s, when the federal government declared the northern spotted owl an endangered species and ordered logging cutbacks across the Pacific Northwest. Since 1993, unemployment in Forks, home to some 3,400 people, has hovered close to 10 percent, compared to a state average of 6.5 percent.

Darrin Fleener, the town's director of economic development, blames most problems on the state government, since its statistics determine which towns receive aid. "We call the government's program 'the peanut butter theory,' " Fleener says. "The money's been spread two miles wide, two inches thick."

In April, Forks officials released a report about the aid program, comparing the experiences of different Washington counties. For example, Stevens County increased its timber harvest by over 50,000 board-feet in the past 10 years, and received almost $10 million in aid. But Clallam County, home of Forks, which lost 350,000 board-feet, received only $1 million.

City officials sent the report to federal and state legislators, then to the White House with a cover letter from Forks Mayor Phil Arbeiter. "We have been cheated, lied to and "sacrificed" for environmental policy," Arbeiter wrote.

Karen Berkholtz, spokeswoman for the state Community Economic Revitalization Team, calls the Forks report misleading. "If you look at the initiative in its entirety," she says, "you'll see that communities that need it are getting help."

In any case, Darrin Fleener hopes the state's decision to keep the program alive means more money will reach troubled communities, where he says substance abuse and crime are at an all-time high. "These were some hard-fought battles, he says, "but we've declared victory."

* Emily Miller, HCN intern

You can ...

* Receive a free copy of the report, NEAI Funding Report; FY 1994-95-96, by writing City of Forks, P.O. Box 1998, Forks, WA 98331.

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