Timber contract lawsuit heading to Legislature

The Oregon Supreme Court’s Sept. 16 decision to not accept the appeal of a $1 billion breach-of-contract lawsuit brought by 13 counties and numerous taxing districts against the Oregon Department of Forestry will ultimately result in more wildfires and poorly managed state forest lands, Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist said Tuesday morning, Sept. 20.

Commissioners Sherrie Sprenger and Will Tucker concurred with his comments.

Linn County took the lead in a class action lawsuit that was announced in 2016 and was heard in Linn County Circuit Court over 21 days in October and November 2019.

The court ruled in favor of the class members, which included fire and library districts, among others, who argued that in the 1930s and ’40s the state had taken over control of more than 700,000 acres of mostly cut-over timber lands in numerous counties with a contractual promise to manage those lands with the “greatest permanent value” as a priority. The class members argued that for decades that meant timber harvesting and reforestation that provided income to the counties and taxing districts.

A jury found in favor of the litigants, but in April 2022 the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed that decision. The class members hoped the Supreme Court would hear the case.

“This is about more than just money,” Nyquist said. “If the state does not change its direction in terms of forest management, we will likely see more wildfires. The forests produce flammable materials two to three times their rate of removal. That program will undoubtedly lead to more catastrophic wildfires.”

Nyquist said the state will also likely see more pre-emptive power shutdowns like the mid-valley experienced two weeks ago. Power companies, fearing high winds would down power lines, shut off electricity for nearly 24 hours in some parts of Marion and Linn counties.

“Taxpayers may also see a small portion of the income taxes taken out of their paychecks to build homes (habitat) for spotted owls that will never show up,” Nyquist said. “It’s not in the best interests of the citizens of Linn County.”

He added that class members — especially county commissioners — would need to move the issue to the State Legislature, which will convene in February, and into the new governor’s office, in January.

“We must force continued public conversation about this issue,” he said.

In other business, the commissioners:

♦ Thanked retiring Linn County Expo Center Director Randy Porter for 24 years of service. All agreed that Porter had done an outstanding job running the facility with a low-key style — at times under very difficult circumstances, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Commissioner Tucker said Porter’s management skills were highlighted during the pandemic, but also in September 2020, when on a moment’s notice, the Expo Center became an emergency shelter for families who lost their homes in the Santiam Canyon to wildfires. Porter will be succeeded by long-time Expo Center staffer Kris Barnes.

♦ Were informed by Linn County Health Officer Dr. William Muth of 69 births (33 females and 36 males) and 135 deaths in August. Dr. Muth said tobacco use was a factor in 19 deaths, 13 were related to diabetes and three to alcohol use. Muth added that the number of sexually transmitted diseases continue to increase, which is a nationwide trend.

♦ Approved an Oregon Parks and Recreation Department grant application to help construct a new RV Waste Water Disposal Facility in Sweet Home.

♦ Approved catering contracts for the Linn County Expo Center with Forks and Corks Catering, Honeybrine Catering, Jacopetti’s Catering, Loafers Station, McKillips Catering, N’Reeners Event Catering and Southpaws Catering.

♦ Approved First-Time Youth Wage Grants agreements with A & R Farms, Koos Seed and Apex Property Clearing & Recycling.

♦ Approved an intergovernmental agreement for $2,687,000 with the Oregon Health Authority to help pay for development of housing or rental assistance for persons with behavioral health issues. The funds will be passed through to the Linn-Benton Housing Authority, Albany Partnership for Housing & Community Development and Oxford Housing.

♦ Announced that all three commissioners would likely attend an event at Cascadia County Park at 1 p.m. Wednesday, when the park will officially be turned over to the county from the State Parks Department. Officials also attended a ceremony recognizing the new post office cluster boxes installed for Cascadia residents, whose post office closed several years ago (see page 10).

– Alex Paul, Linn County Communications Officer