Posted on

Allegations against Oregon county’s bridge project ruled plausible

By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI Capital Press

A bridge construction project in Oregon’s Yamhill County will remain halted after a state land use board determined it may be unlawful and irreparably harm farmers and wetlands.

Opponents of the bridge project along a proposed 3-mile recreational trail have plausibly alleged Yamhill County approved it in violation of zoning ordinances, according to Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals.

Construction on the bridge must remain suspended until LUBA can conduct further deliberations in the case. Opponents and the county must submit additional legal briefs before oral arguments take place on May 27 by telephone conference.

The decision extends a stay order imposed by LUBA earlier this month after critics complained the bridge project impermissibly advances the controversial rail-to-trail project, whose approval LUBA overturned last year.

Yamhill County was ordered by LUBA to more closely scrutinize potential agricultural impacts from the Yamhelas-Westsider trail, which is opposed by numerous farmers along the route between Yamhill and Carlton.

Opponents of the recreational trail argued the local government “duped” LUBA by proceeding with the bridge project even though the trail hadn’t yet been fully reviewed for farm impacts, such as increased restrictions on pesticide usage and crop contamination from litter and trespassing.

Yamhill County argued the bridge wasn’t subject to Oregon’s land use process because it’s intended to improve access for fire trucks and wouldn’t be opened to the public until the overall recreational trail passes legal muster.

According to the county, critics also failed to show the bridge would cause “irreparable harm” that would warrant stopping construction, since the project is far enough from hazelnut trees that it won’t impede herbicide and fungicide spraying.

Food safety also won’t be a problem because the bridge was scheduled to be finished before May 1, long before hazelnuts would be grown and harvested from trees that were planted last year, the county said.

The county argued that “all environmental clearances were obtained” for the bridge, whose construction is being overseen by consulting engineers and the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Although LUBA said the issue of pesticides was “a reasonably close question,” the board determined that farmer Ben Van Dyke has established the construction site was close enough to prevent him from necessary sprays, at least for the purposes of staying the project.

Litter from the construction site is also a “probable” injury for the purposes of the stay order, since the county hasn’t promised to ensure detritus won’t blow onto the hazelnut farm, according to LUBA.

As for environmental approvals, LUBA found that documentation from the state and federal governments didn’t clearly enough show that construction won’t occur in regulated wetlands.

The state and federal approvals also cited the county’s conditional use permit for the recreational trail, but that permit is no longer effective after Yamhill County was ordered to reconsider the decision, according to LUBA.

The bridge project, which would cost $1 million to design and build, was largely funded by government grants and wouldn’t be easily removed if it’s later decided the county approved it unlawfully, LUBA’s order said.