Underground Tours

Actors point guns at each other in the Shamrock Card Room while simulating a standoff over a poker game during the Pendleton Underground Comes to Life on May 20, 2017, in Pendleton.

A tip of the hat to the Pendleton Underground Tours on their 30th anniversary. Memories and stories about the popular tourist attraction abound.

In the late 1980s, a group decided to open up one section of tunnels for tours. They would add furnishings from the era and tell the story of Pendleton in bawdier times. The idea distressed some. The tour, especially after an above-ground bordello was added, would shine a spotlight on a messy history.

“Saloons and brothels were our main industry,” said local realtor and organizer Greg Brooks in an early East Oregonian story about the ribbon cutting. “We were the entertainment capitol of the Northwest. Such a capitol should not be forgotten. The unfortunate thing about the type of history we’re trying to recreate is that it’s a kind of history that no one has ever cared to record. And we believe all history should be recorded whether you like it or not.”

Early organizers pushed past the detractors and got busy. More than 300 volunteers pitched in, clearing debris and helping with construction during 113 full-day work parties. Organizers had predicted that development of the Underground would take around $50,000, but the restoration actually cost $1,000 because of all the volunteerism and donations of time from local contractors. The attraction opened in September of 1989.

About 12,000 visitors took the tour that first year. In 2018, almost 18,000 people visited. Ticket sales for 2018 were $255,785.

It’s easy to take it for granted, but it’s a unique attraction that has brought thousands of people to Pendleton over the decades and helped establish Pendleton as a tourism destination.

A kick in the pants to legislation introduced on May 16 by House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland. A day after state economists revealed the largest “kicker” tax rebate in Oregon’s history, Kotek introduced a plan to cut it in half.

In her bill, roughly half of the estimated $1.4 billion tax rebate would be kept by the state and spent on a set of transportation initiatives the speaker argues will benefit public safety, air quality, and job creation.

“It’s been something I have been sitting and thinking about for several weeks listening to all the needs and conversations in the Capitol,” Kotek told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “It is important that if there is any discussion to redirect any portion of that, that it has to be based on some very sound reasoning.”

Under the plan, $260 million would go toward seismic upgrades of the Abernethy Bridge on Interstate 205. Those upgrades are part of a transportation package lawmakers passed in 2017, but the bridge work is waiting on the possible implementation of tolling before it moves forward. Kotek said Thursday she’d like to begin sooner.

Beyond the bridge, Kotek is proposing spending roughly $220 million on an existing “Clean Diesel Engine Fund” to help freight carriers in Oregon transition to cleaner-burning diesel engines. Both California and Washington have strict diesel standards, which have pushed higher-emissions engines into Oregon.

An additional roughly $220 million would go into a new “Zero Emission Fund” which would create the infrastructure to help the state transition to zero-emission vehicles, like electric cars.

Kotek said she decided to move forward with her proposal after hearing the magnitude of the expected kicker refund. She contended that, even with half the money stripped away, the money flowing back to taxpayers would be comparable to other recent refunds. Oregon has triggered a kicker in each of the last three bienniums.

“This is a historic-level kicker,” Kotek said. “What I think the opportunity we have here is to have a conversation with voters of, ‘You’re still going to get a very sizable kicker.’”

It’s a bad argument and insulting to voters who enacted a kicker to have their tax dollars returned if state revenue outpaced expectations by a wide margin.

A tip of the hat to the people who showed up to the Hermiston City Council meeting on May 13 to offer their time in helping rebuild the city’s burned Funland playground instead of deciding it wasn’t worth rebuilding again after another fire.

Sue Daggett volunteered the help of the Altrusa Club. Tami Rebman of the Columbia Basin Board of Realtors said they were on board to help however they could. Phillip Spicerkuhn, president of the Lions Club, said the Lions were “passionate about helping make sure this resource continues to be a part of the community.” David McCarthy, president of the Hermiston noon Kiwanis Club, offered similar assurances.

“This is the kind of project both our money and our work likes to go to,” McCarthy said.

Tony Garber of the Rotary Club said Rotarians were ready to help as well. He shared memories of taking the various youth sports teams he has coached to the park for after-game celebrations. His wife, a physical therapist, often takes young patients there and watches them play to assess their mobility.

Mayor David Drotzmann thanked everyone for their generosity, noting he had hoped to see his future grandchildren play at Funland.

“This community rises to the occasion when it comes to children,” he said. “I think we will have no problem reaching whatever target we need to reach to rebuild.”

Hundreds of volunteers from local churches will be cleaning up litter Saturday, restoring flood-damaged sections of Riverfront Park and doing other beautification around town as part of the annual I Love My City event. We tip our hats to them as well.

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