Yamhill County takes land use to a whole new (lower) level

Carla Axtman

In my years of land-use wonkery, I've often ruminated over the horrible way that County Commissions in Oregon generally make decisions about land use. As far as I can tell, its one of the most closed processes in public policy making in our state. The general public often has no idea what's going on with their own elected government's decision making until its practically too late to stop the train.

In some cases, the results can be downright baffling.

Take Yamhill County, for instance.

Recently, it was brought to the Commissioners attention by the US Department of Fish and Wildlife that road grading and landscaping activities by the County were killing off the endangered Fender's blue butterfly and it's habitat plant, Kincaid's lupine. The County originally decided to apply for a grant for habitat restoration, which was granted. But later, Commissioners Leslie Lewis and Kathy George voted against accepting the grant, citing possible unforseen costs to the County in the future.

The County's unwillingness to protect the habitat has a good chance of landing them in court. The County was notified in December with a 60 day notice of intent to sue in federal court by the Portland-based Xerces Society, the Yamhill Watershed Stewardship Fund and three individuals with Fender family ties: Bill Fender, Dorothy McKey-Fender and Laura McMasters along with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Unless the county takes action to protect the butterfly and habitat by Jan. 7, the coalition plans to file suit in U.S. District Court in Portland.

So instead of having a grant to assist the County to offset or eliminate costs, they'll likely be paying court costs instead.

But the silliness doesn't end there.

Back in 2009, Yamill County Commissioners voted 2-0 (with one abstention on a conflict of interest) to expand the Riverbend Landfill along Highway 18 near McMinnville. This despite a 7-0 vote against the expansion by their own Planning Commission. Opponents to expansion had argued that it made more environmental and fiscal sense to ship the waste to Arlington while seeking alternatives to landfilling. The science of it all appears to weigh on the side of opponents.

The landfill was originally slated to close in 2014. The expansion would keep it open for another 30 years. The landfill expansion would put it essentially along the Yamhill River, which often floods in winter and spring. This would, naturally, put everything downstream of the Yamhill River in jeopardy of being tainted by whatever is in that landfill.

Yet with all that, Yamhill County voted to lurch forward. Opponents successfully appealed the decision to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals in July, 2010. LUBA offered a heaping smackdown to Leslie Lewis and Kathy George, the two Commissioners who approved the expansion.

But not to be deterred from their single-minded devotion to doing what they want no matter what, George and Lewis appealed. Their case was heard in front of a 3 judge panel of the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Last week, the Court of Appeals rejected the Yamhill County Commission's attempt to expand the landfill.

This kind of senseless, irresponsible (and probably very expensive to the taxpayers) kind of policy making is ridiculous. Presumably, this is not how residents expect Commissioners to spend their tax dollars. And that's not to mention the common sense that simply flown out the window in this process.

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    Thanks so much for this post. What I find compelling is the proverbial "Cutting ones nose off to spite their face" from these commissioners and what's more, they're willing to spend public money to do it. So much for fiscal responsibility.

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    As someone who ran a group with the Fender's blue butterfly as our logo, I'm particularly displeased (though not surprised, given the characters involved).

    For those unaware, from the 1930s until 1989 the Fender's blue was thought to be extinct. In 1989 it was rediscovered.

    The Fender's blue is found only in Oregon's Willamette Valley, and is linked to the threatened Kincaid's lupine.

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    Thanks Carla for giving this subject exposure here at Blue Oregon.

    You are correct that the county levels of government wish to keep land use, and especially Measures 37 & 49 hearings, closed to the public if at all possible.

    Here in Yamhill County that surely would have been the case if Commissioners Leslie Lewis and Kathy George (hereinafter referred to as Lewis-George), and their developer-mafia Masters/Co-Dependents had not been successfully opposed by Commissioner Mary Stern, who insisted on public hearings.

    As to the Riversludge Dump disgrace, one of the most nefarious forseen results of the Lewis-George Job-Killing Pro Garbage vote for Riversludge Dump expansion is that they cost us a minimum of 60, and perhaps as many as 100, well-paying, non-out-sourceable, many decades long-term, JOBS in our county. Not to mention they deprived our county of three Restorative industries: trash-to-fuel, resource recovery, and bioremediation. There are untold many more JOBS in those industries Lewis-George are actively killing.

    Lewis-George are NOT authentic Republicans, and neither are they authentic Tea Partiers.

    They are NOT fiscally responsible and their actions beg the question as to whether they are ethically and morally responsible, or conversely, bankrupt, as well.

    IMPO they ought to both be recalled ASAP and with extreme prejudice. Prejudice is not a bad thing, when the object of it has well earned it, and the righteous contempt that ought to go with it.

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    Carla, nice post. As crazy as two of our three Republican county commissioners here in Marion County can be on land use issues (Sam Brentano and Patti Milne), the Yamhill County bunch are way more insane.

    Hence, my sympathies go out to long-suffering Yamhill County voters who, as you noted, rightfully expect that their commissioners will make sound legal and financial decisions.

    You'd think that Lewis and George would be getting the message that they're acting outside the law, after a string of defeats in court.

    Aren't conservatives supposed to be all law-abide'y? Why aren't Lewis and George ashamed to be on the wrong side of the justice system?

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    Thank you, Brian, for your understanding and support! It has NOT been easy, but we NOT give up!!

    Liz Marlia-Stein, Chair Yamhill County Democrats

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    We can't thank you enough for this absolutely brilliant piece of journalism. We need your words of wisdom spread quickly.

    Thank you so very, very much!!


    Liz Marlia-Stein, Chair Yamhill County Democrats

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    Thank you, Carla!!!

    Thanks for your "Words of Wisdom"!!! What governmental seat will you be running for? I'll vote for you!!! ;o) You are exactly what we need more of in our government!!! Thinking people that try and help all the real everyday people of the County, and not just thier own self interest and special interest (money/power) friends!!! Thank you for being a REAL American, and telling it like it is!!!!!

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    And it is unfortunate that the voters in parts of our county are hardly aware of what the commissioners are doing. "We have met the enemy and he is us." Pogo

    Kudos and thanks to Waste Not of Yamhill County for their continued dedication to this fight.

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    Thank you for this info., Carla.

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