Appeals ruling overturned in Wallace Bridge case
Here’s the latest, issued Friday by National Appeals Division Director Roger Klurfeld and written by NAD Deputy Director James T. Murray: Wallace Bridge developer J.W. Millegan is not a legal “participant” in the appeals process, and the NAD does not have jurisdiction to consider Millegan’s appeal.
The ruling directly contradicts a November decision by NAD Hearings Officer Julie Reading. Millegan responded by saying he will continue seeking state and federal political support to overturn what he called a “miscarriage of justice” by the federal agency.
Wallace Bridge is an international equestrian center proposed for development on lands near the intersection of highways 18 and 22 outside Willamina. A previous owner of portions of that property granted a permanent conservation easement to the Natural Resources Conservation Service on 183.5 acres, and accepted payment of $355,000 from the agency.
Both the NRCS and NAD are agencies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Murray declared that Millegan and his Carlton LLC do not qualify under federal law to appeal the NRCS decision, and that the denial was not adverse to Millegan under the law. With those two conditions allegedly unmet, Murray vacated the hearings officer’s decision and dismissed Millegan’s appeal.
Millegan, a McMinnville native, is a successful investment funds manager who returned to the area determined to develop a world-class equestrian center. He has cited diverse reasons why the Wallace Bridge site is uniquely suited in this region for such development, and he offered the NRCS an exchange of nearby properties he says are environmentally superior to lands encumbered by the current conservation easement.
Millegan requested the easement modification, and appealed the NRCS denial, with power of attorney representing the current property owner. He has built a base of community and political support for the development with a campaign based on unique qualities of the site and economic development needs of the region.
In November, NAD hearings officer Julie Reading — who since has left the agency — ruled that Millegan met legal qualifications for “participant” status, and that the NRCS decision was adverse to him. Murray rejected both judgments in reversing Reading.
Reading also ruled that the NRCS acted incorrectly under federal law in denying the easement modification request. Murray wrote that he “reviewed the case record, including the Appeal Determination, the hearing testimony, the NRCS request for Director review, and Appellant’s response thereto.” However, he did not address the merits of the NRCS denial.
The original landowner, wrote Murray, “reserved record title, the right of quiet enjoyment, the right to prevent trespass, and the right to undeveloped recreational uses. However, the landowner did not reserve the right to modify or terminate the easement.”
Millegan, wrote Murray, “neither owns nor controls either of those properties at this time.” Millegan has agreements to acquire the properties, he said, but not until an easement modification facilitates his proposed development.
The NRCS state conservationist denied Millegan’s proposed easement modification in October 2012. According to Murray, Millegan was not advised of appeal rights at the time because the NRCS did not believe he had a right to appeal. Millegan asserted that right, and filed an appeal that was accorded full analysis by the NAD at the time.
Millegan says his constitutional rights to seek redress of government action were violated by Murray’s ruling. His immediate focus, however, will be to seek active intervention by members of Oregon’s congressional delegation – most notably by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden – urging that U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack intervene to overturn the NRCS denial.
Millegan urged supporters to “take the issue to your government officials and ask that they lead the way … rather than wait and follow.”