- Associated Press - Thursday, January 19, 2017

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) - Residents of Corvallis have sharply divided opinions about whether their county should be involved in a lawsuit against the state.

More than 100 people gathered for a town hall meeting at Corvallis High School Tuesday night to decide whether the county should stay in or opt out of a lawsuit seeking compensation for allegedly low state logging revenue, reported The Corvallis Gazette-Times (https://bit.ly/2k7L5qe ). The Benton County Board of Commissioners organized the meeting to gauge public sentiment on the issue.

The lawsuit was filed by Linn County on behalf of 15 counties that receive revenue from timber harvests on 650,000 acres of forest trust lands. It seeks $1.4 billion from Oregon for failing to maximize logging revenues, citing a 1939 law that says the state is supposed to manage the land for “the greatest permanent value to the state.”

The suit argues that counties have lost out on hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue sharing since the Department of Forestry began to emphasize environmental protection, recreation and other values in 1998.

“This lawsuit is not about forest management. This lawsuit is a straightforward breach-of-contract,” said Mark Gourley of Starker Forests, one of two speakers invited by the commissioners. “Opting out, in my opinion, is in direct conflict to the county’s responsibility to the taxpayers.”

Chris Smith of the North Coast State Forest Coalition argued, however, that the lawsuit is part of the timber industry’s agenda.

“This lawsuit doesn’t come out of thin air,” he said. “For the past several years, there has been a push from some counties and timber companies to drastically increase logging on state lands.”

Benton County commissioners are expected to make their decision next week.

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Information from: Gazette-Times, https://www.gtconnect.com

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