By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Wallace Bridge petitions for reconsideration

Bittner filed the request Friday on behalf of Wallace Bridge, operating under the auspices of the Carlton LLC. In petitioning Klurfeld to reconsider his January decision, it extends a long and contentious battle between Wallace Bridge developer J.W. Millegan and the Natural Resources Conservation Services. 

The NRCS and NAD are both arms of the U.S. Department Agriculture.

In 2012, Millegan asked the NRCS approve modifications to a pre-existing conservation easement to allow development of a world-class equestrian center outside Willamina near the intersection of highways 18 and 22. But the modification request was denied.

Wallace Bridge appealed to the NAD, and the turndown was reversed by a NAD hearings officer. The NRCS then appealed to Klurfeld, who moved in January to reverse the agency hearing officer and reinstate the NRCS denial.

“I’m afraid I may be getting lost in bureaucracy purgatory,” Millegan commented last week, expressing frustration at the ongoing legal battle.

In recent years, Millegan has produced significant plans for the equestrian center, which he says would draw international interest and bolster the local economy. Drawing on studies by biologists and others, he presented extensive evidence to the NRCS that his proposed modification would enhance federal holdings by improving environmental assets incorporated into an adjacent property holding of increased size.

Millegan also has drawn political support from surrounding cities and counties, business and union leaders, state officials and members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Originally, the legal battle was whether Wallace Bridge met various requirements for NRCS approval of an easement modification.

The contention of NRCS officials and NAD Director Klurfeld is that Wallace Bridge does not have standing to appeal. Klurfeld’s finding supports a claim that the easement modification denial does not represent “an adverse decision” to Wallace Bridge interests.

Those latest rulings are erroneous, Bittner claimed in his Jan. 31 letter.

Bittner cited federal law, the NRCS Program Manual and the NAD hearing officer in various arguments in support of Wallace Bridge as a legal participant in the appeal. Any other decision, he wrote, “is inconsistent with the plain language of the regulation; ignores the inclusive language and terms of the regulation; is contrary with the clear regulatory intent; and contradicts reasonable and practical application of the regulation.”

On the point of whether the NRCS decision was adverse to Wallace Bridge, Bittner argued, “NRCS’s arbitrary denial of appellant’s easement modification request nullified the required process to appellant’s detriment and was therefore an adverse decision.”

If Klurfeld upholds his decision without reconsideration, Millegan has said, Wallace Bridge will seek intervention by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

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