The rivalry between Bulldogs and Broncs has sent hot air flowing along the Umatilla River’s banks for decades, but for some residents, statistics say more than scores.

With new population data arriving by spring — the U.S. Census Bureau will release 2010 local numbers in February or March — the battle for claiming largest city in Umatilla County is geared for another 10-year title.

For many, the crown rightly belongs on the head of a certain horse-riding mascot, as the city of Pendleton claimed 3,200 more residents in the 2000 census.

Hermiston residents may be able to claim the population victory belt, however, even before data from the latest census arrive, as professional projections and light-hearted estimates show a prematurely declared victory for the western county hub — by 3,000 residents.

The Population Research Center (PRC) at Portland State University, which is the state’s official population estimate agency, recently released its  preliminary 2010 city population estimates.

Risa Proehl, program manager at PRC, said her agency develops its estimates for incorporated areas, and current numbers show Pendleton proper leading Hermiston by fewer than 1,200 people — even while Hermiston’s city footprint is 2,000 acres smaller than its eastern county neighbor.

The PRC estimate shows a differential decrease in population of nearly two-thirds compared to the last census.

Proehl said many factors led to increasing Hermiston estimates over the last decade, including the rise in available housing.

Her agency conducted a study for the Hermiston School District in 2007 and predicted the district’s population would reach 27,000 by this year.

The district’s enrollment numbers have reflected that growth, jumping by more than 500 over the last five years, while Pendleton’s schools have been decreasing for a decade.

That same PRC study for Hermiston said the district’s boundary lines run close to the 97838 zip code’s limits.

Ten years ago, the Hermiston zip code was champion, claiming nearly 500 more residents than Pendleton’s five-digit postal identity, according to census data.

That same count showed nearly 9,000 people residing in the 97838 zip code but outside city limits.

Using that number and PRC’s 2010 estimate, greater Hermiston’s population currently totals 25,380.

Adding Pendleton’s unincorporated population from 2000 to PRC’s 2010 estimate, the Round-Up city can claim only 22,545.

For now, however, accurate numbers are hard to find.

Representatives from Umatilla Electric Co-op and the post office in Hermiston said their agencies do not keep population information.

The power company tracks their customers by meters only, and those may read “shop” or “well,” depending on circumstance — nothing is indicative of residents.

Scott Green, Hermiston’s postmaster, said the postal service records number of deliveries, which includes businesses. The mail service does not track population numbers.

For residents looking to brag about living in the largest city, the key might not be where to look, but when.

Until spring arrives and delivers local data, residents of Umatilla County will be left guessing — and jesting.

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