Congress drops provision to BWCA bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — An attempt to reopen three truck portages in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area was all but dead for this year after managers of a public lands bill dropped the proposal from their legislation.
The White House threatened late last week to veto the entire bill if the portage measure stayed in it.
“It is absolutely outrageous that the people of northern Minnesota have become the victims of a last-minute sabotage by the high rollers in the preservationist movement and their friends in Congress,” Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn, said Wednesday.
A provision to reopen the truck portages had been inserted into the bill at the request of Grams and Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn. Environmentalists lobbied the administration to block it.
“This backroom deal and end-around attempt to add something to the bill received the treatment it deserved. It shouldn’t have been there,” said Rep. Bruce Vento, D-Minn.
He said the issue should be left to a federal mediation process started at the request of Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn.
As it turned out, the bill still wasn’t satisfactory to President Clinton on Wednesday. The White House in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said the bill — which has 126 separate items — contained provisions that were unacceptable to the president.
A court order closed the three portages to motorized vehicles in 1991. That angered sporting groups in northeast Minnesota and worsened the long-standing disputes over the wilderness area.
With Congress expected to adjourn for the year by the end of next week, there is little time for Grams and Oberstar to find another way to force the portage reopening.
“I don’t want to call it dead. You never say never,” said Grams spokesman Peter Hong. “But our avenues are limited at this point. This was certainly what we thought was a pretty good shot.”
Grams and Oberstar stand to have little success with the issue if Democrats regain control of Congress in the November elections. Vento likely would regain the chairmanship of the House Resources subcommittee on public lands.