Hood River at center of Scenic Area battle

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

May 14, 2005

The authors of Measure 37 are outraged that Oregon Attorney General Hardy Meyers appears ready to oppose two Hood River landowners in a Measure 37 lawsuit.

“Rather than protect his own citizens, the attorney general seems willing to help the federal government attack them,” said Ross Day, legal affairs director for Oregonians in Action (OIA).

OIA, a property rights advocacy group, wrote Measure 37 and has stepped in to defend Paul Mansur and Stephen Struck in their claims involving Scenic Area properties. The Columbia River Gorge Commission is asking the Hood River Circuit Court to clarify whether Measure 37 applies to regulations that were implemented under the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act of 1986.

Measure 37 passed statewide in November by a margin of almost 61 percent. The law went into effect on Dec. 2, 2004, and requires the government to compensate landowners when a regulation devalues property. In lieu of payment, the agency can restore the zoning in place at the time the current owner purchased or acquired the property.

However, the Gorge Commission contends that Measure 37 contains a provision that exempts claims in the Gorge. That challenge is based on language that states the statute does not apply “to the extent the land use regulation is required to comply with federal law.”

Stephanie Striffler, special counsel to the attorney general, said Meyers has not formally decided to become involved in the pending case. However, she expects that a motion to intervene on behalf of the Gorge Commission will be filed in Hood River on Monday. Striffler said the attorney general’s office has a long history of involvement in Scenic Area issues, including a prior constitutional challenge to the Act.

“I think the purpose of this litigation is to get a determination of how Measure 37 applies to the Scenic Area,” said Striffler. “If we get involved, it will be on behalf of the state of Oregon, which is a party to the bi-state compact that created the Gorge Commission.”

Day said if Meyers’ office takes an active role in the case, it will only underscore his argument that the Gorge Commission is a state agency. He said the Scenic Act did not require that the agency be formed to administer Scenic Area guidelines — that was left up to the discretion of Oregon and Washington. Since the Commission is entirely funded by state dollars, he contends that it is a state agency. And therefore, said Day, the actions taken by the Commission are subject to Measure 37.

“What possible interest could the state of Oregon have in this other than to pursue a political agenda? If that is Meyer’s motive, then he is so bent on fighting against the will of the people that he is willing to aid the federal government in harming them. In the end, we believe the attorney general will end up helping us prove our case,” said Day.

Striffler contends the state should rightfully be involved in any interpretation of a new law. She said the litigation just simply seeks to get an answer to the question about how Measure 37 applies to the Scenic Area.

“If Measure 37 is going to be interpreted, we need to be there also because that could impact other claims in the Scenic Area,” said Striffler.

One of the properties tied to the pending case is a .059 acre parcel along Lois Drive that has been owned by Mansur since 1978. He wants to divide the General Management Area land into two buildable lots or be paid $120,000 in compensation. Struck has filed the other contested claim for 6.75 acres on Morton Road that he acquired in 1975. He wants to divide the riverfront property into three developable lots, or be compensated for $1.5 million.

This week, OIA also asked Hood River Circuit Court Judge Paul Crowley to step down from hearing the pending legal challenge. Day said that Crowley’s wife, Susan, has served on the board of directors for Friends of the Columbia Gorge, outspoken opponents of Measure 37. Crowley has recused himself from the case to help the issue be resolved more expeditiously. However, he wrote a letter to all parties reiterating that his decision was made to aid the process, but that he was fully able to “objectively and dispassionately” hear the facts.

“Nevertheless, I choose not to challenge the motion for the following reasons. First, the issue before the court is one of public concern that has ramifications well above and beyond the immediate court. Second, irrespective of whatever decision may be made by any Circuit Court Judge, this case involves issues that will ultimately most likely be decided by the Court of Appeals, if not the Oregon Supreme Court. Third, all of the parties to this case have agreed to an extremely accelerated time line to resolve the matter,” wrote Crowley.

Legal arguments are expected to be presented in Circuit Court before Judge Donald Hull at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 1.

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