Condemnation of Public Forest Commission nullification continues

Grant County resident Jim Sproul speaks in support of the Public Forest Commission during a Grant County Court meeting Feb. 1.

Tempers flared when the nullification of the Public Forest Commission was revisited on Wednesday.

Former county judge Mark Webb brought up the official standing of the commission during the weekly Grant County Court meeting. Grant County Judge Scott Myers and commissioner Boyd Britton reaffirmed they did not support an appeal of Grant County Circuit Court Judge William D. Cramer Jr.’s decision to nullify the measure that created the commission, after they declined to file an appeal before the Dec. 17 deadline to do so.

Former members of the forest commission again expressed their dismay at the commission being nullified without anyone notifying them of the circuit court proceedings. Former Grant County commissioner Chris Labhart stated each of the court dates had been publicly posted.

In 2016, Cramer ruled the measure creating the commission should not have been placed on the ballot in 2002 because the measure sought to assume control of all public lands in the county, which conflicted with paramount state and federal law.

People upset with the nullification have argued the measure only intended to create a commission to manage lands if and when they were legally conveyed to the county. This was the exact argument the county’s legal counsel, Ron Yockim, made when defending the measure on behalf of the county before Cramer in circuit court, but the judge was not convinced.

“Chief petitioner (Dave) Traylor and the voters, even if they read only the summary, were without doubt voting to manage public lands,” Cramer said in the opinion nullifying the measure. “To assert or argue otherwise demeans Mr. Traylor and the voters (sic) ability to express themselves and comprehend what is written. ... To find that the purpose was to set up only a Forest Commission with no lands to manage would require this Court to twist the language of the measure. That interpretation is not believable, not true, and would ask this Court to manufacture a legal fiction.”

Cramer also said in the opinion a legally valid measure could be developed to create a new forest commission that functions as the former commission had been — a new measure that does not conflict with paramount state and federal law by asserting authority it does not have to manage all public lands within the county.

In other court news, Economic Development Coordinator Sally Bartlett discussed the submission of a fire management assistance grant to FEMA. She also updated the court on an addendum to a hazard mitigation plan that would add Canyon City to the Northeast Oregon Regional Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan to give the city access to emergency funds.

Bartlett also informed the court of the dissolution of the Blue Mountain Resource Conservation and Development area — a volunteer council that helped people protect and develop local resources — due to lack of USDA funding.

The court also heard an update from Webb on Allan Mullin’s fire plan for his land and the subject of liability. Webb said there is no cap on liability costs if Mullin was unable to contain a fire on his lands. Grant County Commissioner Boyd Britton said he would work with state representatives to communicate Mullin’s issues.

Mullin presented a plan to fight fire on his land in conjunction with the Oregon Department of Forestry at a Dec. 21 court meeting. The plan states, “ODF will coordinate any fire-fighting efforts on this property with Allan Mullin. Mr. Mullin will have final say in how the ODF approaches wildfire containment, fire line placement and back-burns on his property.”

Mullin said he would have a bulldozer, road grader and 2,500-gallon water truck on site to fight fire.

Webb stated landowners ought to have more control over their lands. Britton showed support for this and said no one knows their lands better than the owners.

The court also:

• approved a $12,463 contract for a stage contracting company to work the county fair out forward by Fair Manager Mindy Winegar.

• approved the expenditure of $25,000 to purchase a 2017 Chevy Equinox to be used by county employees.

• approved a replacement copier for the District Attorney’s Office.

• discussed the continuation of a fire management assistance grant.

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