By editorial board • 

Lots to lament in loss of state FFA opportunity

Our community and economy suffered a blow this week when the Oregon Future Farmers of America Foundation eliminated a promising local site from consideration for a new state headquarters complex.

It would have been a wonderful opportunity for those invested in our rich agricultural culture to have FFA develop a state Leadership and Agricultural Center on 104 acres south of McMinnville near Riverbend Landfill. Waste Management, owner of the landfill and 450 acres of adjacent farmland, including the prospective FFA site, was willing to do everything possible to make the project a win-win proposition.

People invested in the overall community good can’t help but lament the lost opportunity. It’s sad to see such a worthy organization, with such strong agricultural, educational and youth development credentials, have to look elsewhere for a hospitable location.

The marriage of interests was championed by longtime local civic leader Ken Wright, also a driving force for the Yamhelas rails-to-trails project, which seems to be getting more traction. Many who worked on the year-long effort are disappointed to see it come to naught.

It’s hard to tell whether the FFA decision most reflected safety and cost concerns with Highway 18 access or responded to contentious Riverbend politics.

We’d hate to think interests opposed to Riverbend’s expansion would scuttle a worthy community venture simply because it enjoyed Waste Management sponsorship and thus might earn the company some PR plaudits.

The foundation’s executive director, Ken White, said the FFA was pulling out primarily because developing safe access off Highway 18 promised to be too costly. Lack of figures made those cost concerns difficult to assess, but we certainly can understand safety concerns about Highway 18.

“In addition,” White went on to say, “we are uncomfortable putting our members in a position where they may have to defend our project location where there is neighboring opposition.” And neighboring opposition is fierce when it comes to Riverbend, particularly on the part of immediate neighbor Ramsey McPhillips.

Where a landfill is concerned, opposition from neighbors is inevitable, based on odor, noise, litter, traffic, property values, marred views and what have you. Move it elsewhere, and you would have a new set of neighbors worried about the impact. We understand that.

But it troubles us to learn McPhillips — breaking ranks with Stop The Dump Coalition, which remained neutral — rallied neighbors in concerted and determined opposition to the FFA project.

He provided this justification: “By offering the FFA farmland next to the proposed expansion, Waste Management was setting the FFA up as evidence to justify the expansion. I am relieved to see the FFA will no longer be used as a pawn by Waste Management to legally justify the landfill’s destruction of our prime farmland in the courts.”

We think that represents a serious legal overreach based on flawed logic. It should not be the reason this opportunity was lost, for now, to our community. We can hope, with others, that the FFA Foundation finds an alternative site here, in a community that welcomes its development project.

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