By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Jeb Bladine: Politics run hot with Westsider Trail talks

Long-time backers of the Yamhelas Westsider Trail are heartened by recent outpourings of public support for development of the 17-mile recreational trail between (just northeast of) McMinnville and Gaston.

That kind of support would have been even more welcome last May. That’s when Yamhill County voters elected Lindsay Berschauer, an avowed opponent of the trail, to join trail critic Mary Starrett as a majority of the Yamhill County Commission.

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Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

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Berschauer, a political consultant who cut her teeth in the Metro area serving conservative and Republican groups, seemingly was recruited three years earlier to boost Commissioner Starrett’s grip on county politics.

She built a skimpy local résumé by joining a rural fire district board and then the county Budget Committee. She and Starrett gathered financial support for her commission campaign from farmers, timber interests and rural landowners who wanted to douse the progressive Westsider Trail project.

Ironically, those funds from agricultural interests helped defeat a real farmer running for the office. In the end, however, it was a loathsome character assassination effort financed by outside money that pushed Berschauer into office.

Since December, and especially this week, Westsider Trail politics have heated up.

Hundreds of local people signed onto a public statement attributing Westsider opposition to “a small group of opponents (many coincidentally Commissioner Berschauer’s campaign donors).”

A second high-profile campaign calls it “Irresponsible” for commissioners to derail decades of planning for a valuable future asset … to risk mandatory repayment of $2.5 million in grants used to purchase the historic railroad corridor … to “make decisions based on campaign financial support that are not supported by the greater public.”

Westsider Trail fervor hit a zenith this week with the approach of Thursday’s County Commission meeting, which runs well beyond deadlines for this column. Readers, however, can find that story in today’s news.

Did commissioners return to Berschauer’s motion — made and withdrawn last week — to retract the county’s Westsider Trail land use application? Did trail opponents successfully argue their incorrect claim that Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals already declared the project illegal? Those answers, and more, are reported in today’s issue.

I still remember — from almost 50 years ago – when Yamhill County farmers successfully killed the fully funded project to connect Yamhill County to the metropolitan area via a new bridge across the Willamette River. Actually, they just delayed action long enough for enactment of an inferior plan costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

That happens, sometimes, when special-interest politics rule the day.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

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