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Yamhill County must reconsider rails-to-trails project

by Mateusz Perkowski Capitol Press

A controversial rails-to-trails project in Oregon’s Yamhill County must be reconsidered due to potential farm impacts from pesticide restrictions, increased trespassing and food safety problems.

Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals has blocked the county government’s approval of the nearly 3-mile Yamhelas Westsider project and ordered it to take a closer look at these possible effects, as well as other land use issues.

Under Oregon land use law, developments in exclusive farm zones that require a conditional use permit cannot force significant changes to agricultural practices or significantly raise their costs.

Farmers who oppose converting the railroad track between the cities of Yamhill and Carlton into a recreational trail argue that it will complicate pesticide applications due to required “setbacks” from such sensitive areas.

Common pesticides such as Gramoxone cannot be sprayed within the “vicinity” of recreational areas, while Lorsban and Yuma 4E require a 100-foot setback, which farmers claim will reduce their ability to treat fields next to the trail.

According to LUBA, Yamhill County didn’t adequately evaluate the project’s potential effects on pesticides under the “farm impacts test” because such setbacks are required even when the chemicals are used properly to avoid drift or over-spray.

Pesticide regulations also prohibit spraying within recreational areas, which may be broader than just the paved trail used by visitors, the ruling said. In analyzing the project, the county must take a closer look at what’s mandated under pesticide labels.

“In doing so, the county will likely have to make specific factual findings about specific setbacks required by particular chemicals on particular farming operations on surrounding farmlands, and whether operation of each setback would force a significant change in farm practices,” LUBA said.

The county’s finding that fencing along the trail would reduce problems with trespassing was also faulted by LUBA, which ruled that such plans were imprecise and didn’t sufficiently deal with trash blowing onto fields.

“If preventing physical trespass from dogs and people were the only purpose of the fence, and the record included evidence that a wide variety of fences could satisfy that purpose, it might be sufficient to impose such a general condition and leave determinations regarding design, materials, etc., to a subsequent administrative proceeding,” the ruling said. “But the county relies on the proposed fence to address a wide variety of different potential impacts, which might require different fence designs, materials, construction techniques and maintenance routines, in order to ensure that the trail will not cause significant impacts on farm practices.”

Instead of delving into these details, the county “simply punted” such deliberations until a later “master planning” process that wouldn’t provide for public input, according to LUBA.

Even in regard to keeping out people and dogs, the county’s findings were inadequate, the ruling said.

“Depending on what ‘capable of preventing’ means, the results could range from a four-foot-high picket fence to a 10-foot steel wall topped with razor wire, or anything in between,” the ruling said.

A lack of sufficient planning for fencing needs also carries over to food safety impacts, since preventing incursions by people may not totally shield crops such as hazelnuts from contaminated litter, according to LUBA.

“As we understand the testimony, the concern is not limited to trespassers entering fields and orchards to defecate, but also to windblown or water-borne microorganisms from fecal material deposited adjacent to fields and orchards, within the right-of-way,” the ruling said.

Aside from these points, LUBA also remanded the decision for the county to consider traffic problems from vehicles parked near the trail’s access points, potentially impeding the movement of agricultural machinery, as well as how firefighters could access the area.

According to LUBA’s 87-page ruling, the county should also have better scrutinized the project for compliance with its own land use plans and ordinances. Some of the criticisms of the project, such as increased complaints about agricultural practices, were dismissed by the board, however.