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Timber lawsuit to go forward without review

A lawsuit filed against the state by multiple Oregon counties alleging deficient logging on state forestlands will go to trial without first being reviewed by the Oregon Court of Appeals, a Linn County Circuit Court judge decided Monday.

The $1.4 billion class-action lawsuit — initially filed in 2016 — revolves around forestlands formerly owned by 15 Oregon counties which are now held in trust by the state. The counties are alleging the state breached a contract with them by refusing to manage the lands for timber revenue the counties say they were promised.

Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman said the case moving forward is a good sign.

He said he’s looking forward to a ruling that says the lands need to be managed as agreed upon.

“The sooner we get to a point where that’s happening the better,” Freeman said.

In January, Linn County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Murphy denied a request from the state to dismiss the lawsuit.

In a letter explaining his January decision, Murphy discussed the interpretation of ambiguous language in the agreements saying the state would manage the lands for the “greatest permanent value of those lands.”

Murphy said the counties should be allowed to provide evidence that the parties intended “greatest permanent value” to mean harvesting timber for maximum revenue.

According to the state, the promised “greatest permanent value” includes non-timber concerns like recreation and the environment.

But the counties said that’s not what the parties intended when the lands were turned over to the state in the 1940s.

A pre-trial conference is scheduled for October.

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School vaccination rates fall in Douglas County

Douglas County public health officials say they have seen an increase in the number of parents who have declined to vaccinate their kids.

Douglas Public Health Network Director Bob Dannenhoffer says Oregon has a relatively easy method to decline vaccinations, and the unvaccinated rate had dropped in the county from about 7 percent to near 6 percent last year, but this year, it has gone back up to 7 percent. And that, he says, is a concern.

“One percent is not a huge drop, but the fact that we’re not above the 95 percent vaccination rate in the schools is a worry,” Dannennhoffer said. “It’s a little disturbing because it’s an increasing trend, and every time the rate drops a point it makes it a little more of a risk for a sustained outbreak.”

Officials are concerned because some of the diseases, like pertussis and measles could continue to spread if the immunization rates drops much below 95 percent.

In the Roseburg School District, Eastwood, Winchester and Sunnyslope schools had the best immunization rates at 96 percent. Melrose Elementary School had the lowest rate for students with all of the required shots, with just 89 percent. Hucrest and Fullerton IV schools were both at 92 percent.

South Umpqua had the highest vaccination rate for county high schools with 98 percent and Sutherlin and Oakland High Schools were right behind with 97 percent. Glendale High School had the lowest rate out of county high schools with 89 percent.

“The number of kids that can’t get a vaccination because of medical reasons, has continued to drop and is now very, very low ... less that one-in-a-thousand,” Dannenhoffer said. “All of the vaccinations that kids haven’t gotten have been from parental choice.”

Those students that declined the vaccinations, he said, are allowed to attend school, but if there is an outbreak of a disease, those that are under-vaccinated will be excluded from school until the threat is no longer there.

“Recently there was an outbreak of whooping cough (pertussis) in north county, and there were 14 kids who were under-vaccinated who were potentially exposed, and those kids were all not vaccinated by parental choice, so they could not re-enter school until they got vaccinated or until the disease was out of the school,” Dannenhoffer said.

Shots are required by law for children in attendance at public and private schools, preschools, child care facilities, and Head Start programs in Oregon, according to the Oregon Health Authority website. Nearly every place that provides care for a child outside the home requires shots or a medical or non-medical exemption to stay enrolled.

Myrtle Creek man arrested for online sex charges

A Myrtle Creek man was arrested Sunday after allegedly trying to meet up with a 14-year-old girl for sex.

James Allen Brown, 22, was charged with first-degree online sexual corruption of a minor, second-degree online sexual corruption of a minor and luring a minor.

Brown first messaged the girl on Facebook on May 26, asking if he knew her.

The Facebook page was operated by a Myrtle Creek police officer, who was posing as a 14-year-old girl to catch people who prey on children.

On June 1, Brown told the girl she was beautiful, according to court documents.

The girl told him she was 14.

Brown said he wished she was older, “but hey it’s cool, we can be friends.”

The following day, Brown asked if she wanted to meet up and get to know each other. The girl said she was going to garage sales with her mom and Brown replied by sending a photo of his face and told her to look out for him.

Later, Brown sent the girl a photo of his knife collection.

The conversation started to turn flirtatious and the pair said they wanted to “do things” with each other, according to court documents.

Brown sent the girl a series of emojis indicating what he wanted to do, according to court documents.

The pair made plans to meet up at the convenience store on Main Street in Myrtle Creek.

Brown sent the girl a picture of a bicycle and told her to keep an eye out for it.

A Myrtle Creek police officer waited across the street for Brown to arrive at the convenience store, where he was arrested.

When police interviewed him, Brown said he knew he did something wrong.

He said he had just gone through a bad breakup and was looking for someone nice and didn’t intend on actually having sex with the girl.

Brown’s plea hearing hasn’t been set.

Lookingglass landfill site to host search and rescue trainings

The old Lookingglass landfill property that the county had formerly proposed be converted to an off-highway vehicle recreation area is now being leased to an organization that plans to allow Douglas County Search and Rescue groups to train there.

The county land department had pursued the recreation area proposal for about a year before suddenly dropping it in March.

The project had garnered support from OHV enthusiasts, many of whom are also search and rescue volunteers. But property owners in the quiet residential neighborhood surrounding the property had strongly opposed the idea, turning out standing-room only crowds at a committee meeting, a community meeting and a public hearing on the subject. The neighbors said the project would create a lot of noise, lower their property values and create a risk of landslides in the winter and fires in the summer.

The lease arrangement came to light after Kat Stone of Roseburg brought it up at last week’s Douglas County commissioner meeting. Some neighbors of the Lookingglass property said they’re concerned about what it will mean for them.

Dave Geddes, a neighbor of the property, said the decision wasn’t made transparently, and he’s disappointed that the approximately 300 affected neighbors in the Lookingglass area weren’t told about it ahead of time.

“By doing it under the table they’re just basically saying to a group of people in Lookingglass Valley you don’t count, we’ll do what we want, and that’s wrong,” Geddes said.

Steve Denney, another neighbor who had been a vocal opponent of the OHV park, said he’s still concerned about the problems that worried him with the park proposal. He said this new plan came out of the blue and that the neighbors have been kept in the dark.

“The problem is we don’t know anything about it,” he said. “All there was was a statement at the county commissioners’ meeting, I understand, that they had leased it to search and rescue, and they did it because they could. And that’s all I know. I don’t know what the details of the lease are. I don’t know whether they’re going to accommodate the concerns of the neighbors.”

Denney said he hopes search and rescue members will reach out to the neighbors.

Virgle Osborne is a neighbor who is also the coordinator for the county’s 4X4 search and rescue volunteers. It was Osborne who put up the signs that alerted Stone and his neighbors to the fact that search and rescue planned to use the property.

Osborne had supported the idea of the OHV park. In his view, the project’s opponents have already won.

“We tried to make it a public area, and the neighbors didn’t want that, so they got what they wanted. It’s not a public area,” he said.

Osborne said his group of rescuers doesn’t have any immediate plans about how they’ll use the area, since they won’t go onto the property during fire season. Search and rescue operations don’t just include 4X4s. Other rescue groups such as dog, ground search and horse teams will also likely train there.

While he supported the original OHV recreation area project, Osborne noted it was the county government, and not the OHV enthusiasts like himself, that made that proposal. The county land department had submitted the proposal.

He said it’s disappointing that some of the project’s opponents were non-residents, but he doesn’t hold the residents’ concerns against them. He said the whole project was defeated by a misinformation campaign. He asserted there’s no landslide risk, just a small slough with no steep terrain that he said poses no risk.

However, he said now that it can’t be used as a recreation area, it makes sense for the county to let search and rescue volunteers use it.

“It can’t be used for anything else, so the county’s decided that they’re going to go ahead and use it for search and rescue training. Good cause,” he said.

County Commissioner Chris Boice said the lease is to an organization called DRB Properties, which leased the facility expressly with the purpose of offering it to search and rescue volunteers for their training operations.

Boice said no public process is required for a county land lease, and if other people are interested in using that or any other county property they’re more than welcome to bring those proposals to the county at any time.

“Our goal, and I believe the goal of everyone involved, is to make sure that any legitimate concerns by the neighbors or anyone else are mitigated. That’s always been our concern. We really just didn’t have the opportunity to get that far in the other proposal,” Boice said.