Spokane, Wash. — The people of Spokane want everybody to know that it is OK to come back to the Pacific Northwest. So do the people of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; Portland, Ore.; Yakima, Wash.; Bend , Ore.; and Seattle.
Nearly six weeks after the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, May 18, it is becoming clear that the biggest disaster wasn't the eruption itself but the lingering impression that most of the Northwest is an ash-choked wasteland.
Tourism is off by half throuhout the region, not only in areas around the mountain or in the belt of ash, but at resorts in places like central Oregon hundreds of miles away.
A drum and bugle corps competition in ash-free Federal Way, Wash., was canceled recently because groups from California feared to come near the mountain.
An electronics company announced plans to abandon a proposed factory near Van couver, Wash., claiming it couldn't draw workers because of the volcano.
So Northwesterners are beginning to fight back with an advertising campaign designed to dispel the notion that the region is buried in ash.
TheSpokane Area Convention and Visitors Bureau is spending $22,000 on television commercials showing off the sporting potential of Spokane region.
The Idaho Department of Tourism is putting together another ad package and a fly-around tour to encourage tourists back to northern Idaho's lake country.
Portland and other Columbia River ports have their own advertising campaign under way to reassure shippers that the ports are back in business after being temporarily closed by a mud shoal in the river.
By the end of July, the Army Corps of Engineers is expected to have dredged a passage nearly 39 feet deep, allowing most ships in and out of Portland.
Washington Gov. Dixy Lee Ray, touring the eastern part of the state, complained angrily about former Oregon Gov. Tom McCall stating on national television that the entire state of Washington was devastated. Mr. McCall said he was only trying to help his neighbor to the north get more disaster relief money.
"He meant well, but he flubbed up," commented an editorial in the Spokane Spokesman-Review. The editorial went on to observe that the eruption has placed Northwest leaders on the horns of a dilemma.
How do they make the event look bad enough to get needed disaster assistance without making it look so bad that they scare everyone away?
Some Portland businessmen were even upset when Gov. Victor Atiyeh asked President Carter to add Oregon to the list of national disaster areas following the third Mt. St. Helens eruption, in June, that sprinkled ash on Portland.
Right now Washington State officials are wondering how to squirm out of an agreement that commits the state to pay a quarter of disaster relief costs. Since the damage resulting from the eruptions of Mt. St. Helens has been estimated as high as $2.5 billion, the bill could be high.
Much of that figure, however, represents economic losses, and the actual cleanup bill may be much lower, thogh still a problem for a state like Washington which already is facing a large budget deficit due to the recession.
Some in the Northwest are not particularly pleased by the example recently set by Nebraska. That state agreed to pay a fourth of the cost of disaster relief in the wake of tornado that wrecked the city of Grand Island.