Farmers in Oregon’s Yamhill County who for three years have been fighting the county’s attempt to turn an abandoned railroad right-of-way into a recreational trail got a boost earlier this month from the state Land Use Board of Appeals.

LUBA blocked the county government’s approval of nearly 3 miles of the proposed Yamhelas Westsider project and ordered it to take a closer look at possible impacts on neighboring farms.

Three cheers for LUBA. While the ruling doesn’t necessarily put an end to the project, it creates a much larger hurdle for the county to clear.

In 2017, Yamhill County paid $1.4 million for the “quit claim” deed to a 12.5-mile stretch of unused rail corridor that it’s intending to turn into the Yamhelas-Westsider trail for walkers and cyclists. Last year, the county’s board of commissioners approved immediately developing nearly 3 miles of the trail between the towns of Yamhill and Carlton.

The trail’s website touts the potential of what eventually could be a 17-mile trail through the heart of the Oregon wine country. “The route has magnificent vistas of the Coastal Range and passes many Century Farms.”

And there’s the rub. The rail right-of-way passes through active farming operations.

If the trail were created, the presence, or potential presence, of hikers or bikers would restrict the application of pesticides within 150 feet of the corridor. Farmers rightly argued that would create a hardship for neighboring operations. They also worried that their farms would become targets for activists who oppose pesticide application.

Opponents also feared that the trail would bring more trespassers onto neighboring farmland, and more humans and pets relieving themselves in fields and orchards. That could create a food-borne disease concern for producers. They also feared the potential for more trash and an increased danger of fire.

Under Oregon law, such development in an “exclusive farm use” zone cannot cause significant changes to farming practices or their costs.

According to LUBA, Yamhill County didn’t adequately evaluate the project’s potential effects on pesticides under the “farm impacts test” because such setbacks are required even when the chemicals are used properly to avoid drift or over-spray.

The county’s finding that fencing along the trail would reduce problems with trespassing was also faulted by LUBA, which ruled that such plans were imprecise and didn’t sufficiently deal with trash blowing onto fields.

LUBA also remanded the decision for the county to consider traffic problems from vehicles parked near the trail’s access points, potentially impeding the movement of agricultural machinery, as well as how firefighters could access the area.

Yet to be decided is the claim that the original right-of-way deeds are invalid without an operating rail line, rendering the county’s “quit claim” purchase of the corridor moot unless it plans to build a working railroad.

County officials have seemed determined to steamroll the project, so LUBA’s ruling probably isn’t the last word. But the decision will force county officials to address the farmers’ concerns.

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