Farm association debuts Jan. 16 at County Board

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

January 13, 2007

The newly formed Hood River Agriculture, Forestry and Landowners Association will introduce its board members to the County Commission at Tuesday’s meeting.

The association (HRAFLA) also plans to visit with Sen. Rick Metsger and Rep. Patti Smith in Salem within the next few weeks. Its goal is to ensure that the voice of orchardists and timber holders is heard when Measure 37 discussions are taking place.

On a less friendly note, the association wants both local and state officials to know that any attempt to “clarify” the law in a way that doesn’t benefit landowners will be strongly resisted.

“Measure 37 was lawfully passed by a supermajority of the voters. And its constitutionality was upheld by the Supreme Court when opponents filed a lawsuit against it,” said Bill Bayless, a Dee forester. “Now they (government officials) are standing back and wringing their hands and saying ‘We can’t have this’ but the people have spoken and they need to adjust.”

In the near future, HRAFLA will begin hosting a series of public forums to tell its “side of the Measure 37 story.”

Gary Willis, a Pine Grove farmer, said most citizens were pleased when Oregon enacted its land-use laws more than 30 years ago. However, he said Senate Bill 100 not only “stripped away” property rights — it became the first of many regulatory actions to burden the agriculture industry.

“When we started these land-use laws, we didn’t have a worldwide market and we didn’t have all of the regulations the government has now imposed,” said Willis.

“Oregon’s land-use laws may have been visionary in the early 1970s, but common sense, fairness, balance and flexibility are no longer part of the planning process,” said Camille Hukari, association treasurer and a mid-valley grower.

For example, she is denied the right by state rules to put a residence on five of her 70 acres that are unusable for farming. Bayless said he was denied retirement income when the state took away his right to carve a few home sites from his 332 timbered acres.

“The only thing we can grow on some of our land is grass and weeds. To require that we be able to make $80,000 of gross income each year from farming before we can build one house on an 80-acre parcel is not reasonable, said Allen Ehl, a Parkdale farmer.

The association formed in mid-December and the membership already stands at 88 families. Hukari, who serves as treasurer, said the numbers are likely to grow. She said many landowners have been waiting for a chance to fight heavy-handed bureaucracies, and now they have that opportunity.

“I believe that Measure 37 is just a symptom of the problem. The process itself is flawed because planners don’t understand agriculture,” said Paul Mansur, a forester and vice-president of HRAFLA.

Area farmers believe “urban versus rural” ideologies have caused a chasm to open up over Measure 37 issues — and they are hoping to bridge it with increased understanding.

“What has happened to us would be like asking Portland homeowners to sell their property for the same price, or less, 10 years later,” said Willis.

HRAFLA said their message about how to “fix” the economic problems that resulted in Measure 37 is both simple and complex.

“Consumers state their support for Oregon-grown fruit but then buy whatever is cheapest. And that is most often an apple or pear that was grown in a foreign country with the use of herbicides and pesticides that are outlawed in the United States. And by laborers who are paid much less than what we are required to pay our workers,” said Willis.

He acknowledges that most trade issues have to be dealt with at the federal level. But if Oregon stands united, HRAFLA believes Congressional delegates might be able to “level the playing field” by amending international agreements. Meanwhile, Willis said the state doesn’t have to worsen the problem by imposing the most stringent land-use restrictions in the nation.

“The economic caveat of business is that you grow or you go,” said John Benton, an orchardist and president of the group.

Bayless said it is a “myth” used by Measure 37 opponents that Oregon is “running out” of natural resource lands. Even with a flood of claims filed statewide by the Dec. 2 deadline to most easily address past zoning changes, less than one percent of the total landmass is affected.

“We have a million acres of public land around Mount Hood. And half of the state of Oregon is public land. Hood River County is 74 percent in public ownership. So, all of this worrying about a little bit of development is ridiculous,” said Mansur.

Hukari said most farmers filed Measure 37 claims because lawyers and insurance companies advised them to protect their investment. However, she said just because the maximum amount of development is requested doesn’t mean it will happen.

“It would take me 48 years of growing pears to make the same profit that I would get from one house on that same piece of land,” she said. “Measure 37 would not be a problem if I was making what my father made.”

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