- Associated Press - Friday, March 1, 2019

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled that negative impacts on Oregon’s farmers from non-farm development can’t be offset by making payments, a newspaper reported.

The court also ruled this week that it’s not enough for a development to avoid taking away agriculturally-zoned land - it also can’t change costs or agricultural practices for nearby farmers, The Capital Press reported Friday.

The landmark ruling settles a lawsuit filed over a planned expansion of a landfill in Yamhill County that would affect nearby farms and orchards and requires such developments to be analyzed “practice by practice and farm by farm.”

In 2017, the Oregon Court of Appeals found that the Riverbend Landfill’s expansion was permissible under state land use law because it did not “decrease the supply of agricultural land, the profitability of the farm or the provision of food.”

The Court of Appeals also held that Yamhill County’s “conditions of approval” for the landfill expansion - such as payments for litter cleanup and damaged fruit crops - were sufficient to prevent significant changes to agriculture.



The Oregon Supreme Court has now reversed that opinion and adopted an interpretation of land use law supported by local opponents of the landfill, as well as the Oregon Farm Bureau and the 1,000 Friends of Oregon conservation group.

If a non-farm development results in the “inability of the farmer to engage in an accepted farming practice,” simply paying him for the adverse effect “contravenes the legislature’s long-term policy of preserving agricultural land,” the state’s highest court said.

The ruling upholds Oregon’s land use goal of preserving large blocks of farmland needed for the healthy functioning of the agricultural economy, said Ramsey McPhillips, an adjacent farmer who opposes the landfill expansion.

“This isn’t just about McPhillips Farm, it’s about all the farmland in Oregon being encroached on by non-farm entities who could just pay off their trespass,” he said.

Under the Oregon Supreme Court’s ruling, opponents can seek to block non-farm developments for causing significant impacts to the “individual farmer,” said Meriel Darzen, rural lands attorney for 1,000 Friends of Oregon.

“They don’t have to show there will be a decrease in the land supply,” she said.

This test is employed by county governments whenever they encounter conditional use permit applications for non-farm developments in “exclusive farm use zones,” Darzen said.

“The way the standard is applied is really important. It’s how farmers can protect their farm uses from impact,” she said. “The standard is applied more often than almost anything in land use.”

The Oregon Supreme Court’s decision is “very instructive” and sets a “high bar” for non-farm development, re-emphasizing the farmland preservation policies enacted by Oregon lawmakers, said Tim Bernasek, an attorney who represented the Oregon Farm Bureau in the case.

“They have to apply it on a farm-by-farm basis,” he said. “It needs to be a much more specific analysis regarding the concerns that are raised.”

Waste Management, the owner of the Riverbend Landfill, is reviewing the Oregon Supreme Court’s ruling, said Jackie Lang, the company’s senior area manager for public affairs and communications.

The expansion plan was shaped by public input over eight years, during which the project was “thoroughly vetted and scrutinized,” Lang said in an email.

“The final plan was approved by Yamhill County after an open and transparent process that included more than 25 public meetings,” she said. “Waste Management has approached this process with a steady commitment to being a strong local employer and community partner.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling doesn’t block the expansion from moving forward but rather remands the decision to the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals, which reviews such conditional use permit decisions.

McPhillips said he’s optimistic the new composition of Yamhill County’s board of commissioners will yield a different result from past approvals.

“When it comes back to the county, there’s a farmer on the commission who understands the importance of preserving large sections of farmland,” he said.

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Information from: Capital Press, http://www.capitalpress.com/washington

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