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Yamhelas Westsider Trail, Con: Trail nothing more than expensive boondoggle

##Mary Starrett
##Mary Starrett

Yamhill County features the perfect mix of urban and rural, with comfortably sized cities, traded sector manufacturing, thousands of acres of forest and agricultural land and communities that still value caring for each other.

That said, our county faces significant budget issues. Limited resources, rising personnel costs, public safety concerns and increasingly burdensome unfunded state mandates are among the challenges we’re navigating.

[See also, Pro: Project is worth a look with fresh eyes]

But we are committed to maintaining quality services, and with the same tax rate we’ve had in place for a quarter century.

It’s been suggested the county consider a referendum gauging taxpayer support for an expensive, controversial recreational trail. Such a referendum could cost county taxpayers upwards of $70,000 — a hit to an already strapped Clerk’s Office budget.

Where would the money come from to fund such a referendum? And what would be the point?

I assume Yamhill County residents wouldn’t oppose a recreational trail if it were free, didn’t violate land use laws and earned support from those it might negatively impact.

But that’s not what we’re talking about. We are talking about a trail that would financially burden future taxpayers with a controversial, unfunded mandate that hurts our farmers and conflicts with land use laws designed to protect farmland.

When I joined the board of commissioners in June 2014, an expensive project called the Yamhelas Westsider Trail, aimed at turning former railroad right of way into a recreational trail, had already been approved by a former board. That was predicated on assurance by supporters that there would be no opposition from neighboring farmers and all necessary land use permits could be obtained.

Along the way, I learned commissioners had been misled, and it was costing taxpayers dearly. Yet, some would like to revive the project by misleading voters.

I asked the same three questions at the outset of my first term that I continued to ask for the next eight years, all without ever getting straightforward answers:

1) Does this project have land use approval?

2) What would this project cost?

3) How would this project be funded and maintained?

Here are the facts:

Local farmers oppose the Yamhelas Westsider Trail. The proposed trail runs afoul of Oregon’s farmland protection land use statutes. The proposed trail has already cost the county a significant amount in staff time and attorney fees. The proposed trail would likely cost county taxpayers millions more in unfunded mandates.

Adding to those negatives, the Oregon Supreme Court recently created significant new legal liability for local governments that own and operate places to recreate, including public trails. A person could sue a local government if they were injured while using a recreational trail for an unrelated purpose, say getting to school or work.

The Oregon Legislature just passed a law to remedy that liability, but it’s a temporary fix slated to sunset in two years. Barring an extension, any new trails could create a serious financial risk to the county.

As if those negatives weren’t concerning enough, some trail proponents have encouraged using the project to eventually revive rail use. That could effectively bring Portland’s troubled light rail system to our communities — a system that’s been plagued with violent crime and drug use.

Public records include an e-mail from then-Commissioner Casey Kulla to county staff on June 16, 2020, asking: “Is there a way we can push the rail part of this, as in, well, if we cannot put the trail here, let’s work on the rail together?”

In short, it’s an expensive referendum that doesn’t fit in our budget, wouldn’t do a thing to mitigate right-to-farm and food safety concerns and wouldn’t change the bottom line — that a proposed recreational trail runs afoul of state land use laws.

Any voter referendum would be wholly dishonest and misleading unless we asked such questions as: “Would you support increasing taxes to pay for an expensive recreational trail that could not secure land use approval anyway?” or “Do you support increasing the county’s legal liabilities?” or “Do you want to set the stage for extension of Portland’s dangerous public transit system into your community?”

Yamhill County is home to 17 beautiful and diverse parks, some of which have not been fully developed to their maximum recreational potential. I suggest we focus on turning those magnificent, underdeveloped spaces into welcoming recreational opportunities for our county instead of dredging back up the ill will and division this expensive and unlawful boondoggle has wrought.

Comments

Oregonize

The continued Trail Derangement Syndrome and of course always bring out the Metro/light rail boogeyman. Why so afraid of letting the people vote?

Culbert

Commissioner Starrett cites the following as reasons not to consider developing this trail: budget issues, limited resources, rising personnel costs, public safety concerns and increasingly burdensome unfunded state mandates. I would like to know how developing this trail would affect each of those "reasons".
She also says a referendum COULD cost county taxpayers upwards of $70,000 — a hit to an already strapped Clerk’s Office budget. Does this mean we cannot have a referendum simply because we cannot afford one?
She also says developing this trail would financially burden future taxpayers with a controversial, unfunded mandate that hurts our farmers and conflicts with land use laws designed to protect farmland.
I'd like to see detailed answers to her 3 questions be published in the N-R by the trail's Friends Group. I believe that the initial plan for the trail addressed mitigation of the right-to-farm and food safety concerns still being claimed by neighboring farmers. I do know that outside grants were used to purchase the transportation corridor, and also begin development, before the project was stopped. Where is the unfunded mandate on local (I am presuming here) taxpayers?
Her stated referendum questions, for which she'd like answers, divert the discussion to non-relevant issues regarding this trail.
However, I do agree with her that we could use more funding to improve our county park properties. But, this trail would NOT become another county park. It would be a needed transportation corridor in our county, which among other things would improve the safety of school children in Yamhill and Carlton.
A recent CPRD survey of public preferences for recreation suggests a majority of our citizens would like this trail. Thus, I see little reason stated by her NOT to hold a referendum, so that it becomes clear to our current Commissioners what a majority of our residents really want.

Garden Variety

The ill will and division are the invention of Ms Sterrett and a few farmers, and could easily be dispelled by the infusion of a bit of honesty.
Funny how these Commissioners wanted to force a referendum on the Newberg project, but the county can't afford to vote on the trail that a survey shows a majority of county residents want to see happen.

yamhillbilly2

In the classic style of Mary, she had to be aware of the legislature passing a bill to protect municipalities and private parties from injury lawsuits while recreating on a public trail. Gov Kotek signed it and it takes effect immediately. I guess since it didn’t concern guns or a vaccine she didn’t care about this fact that counters her argument quite handily. We need better folks as commissioners than the current three clowns we have.

Patrick97132

When it comes to Second Amendment Sanctuary fights, Mary and her fellow commissioners don't bat an eye at spending wads of cash tilting at legal windmills. A fight they didn't ask voters to take on. Now, here we are with people of the county asking for a vote on a trail, but it's too expensive. I bet if her favorite attorney Tyler Smith was leading the effort to write the ballot language for the trail the check would already be cut. When are we going to wake up and realize that we have two state and national political wannabes playing with our county?
Since the trail is a hot-button national political issue, like vaccines or guns, this commission isn't interested. Hey, Mary, go run for governor again and take your pal Lyndsey with you. Maybe then we can get back to actual county issues that some of us would like to see.

YamCoCan

I hope this is recorded as an in-kind donation, since Mary is clearly trying to rile anti-trail sentiment to promote Berschauer's campaign. Saying we can't use referendums because they're expensive is like when she said we shouldn't pursue grants because the agreements were too long to read. Making up excuses because "I don't wanna"

Otis

Trails are portals into hellfire...guarded by demons with fleece vests and granola bars.

mathowie

I'd love to know why Oakridge, Oregon and Banks, Oregon, and Vernonia, Oregon are all booming towns with tons of restaurants and places to visit that I would have never traveled to unless they had lots of great bike trails. They were all former sawmill towns like Yamhill that don't have a ton of tourism options now.


This project was approved over ten years ago, most residents want it, it's ridiculously cheap to simply pour a little asphalt path where train tracks once were, and where every landowner granted an easement already to the railroad they've never grown on.


For the last ten years, we could have had hundreds of thousands of visitors spending their money in Carlton and Yamhill as their families enjoyed a little path in the woods, we could have seen jobs and new places open in both towns. Instead we've seen it only become an expensive project because Mary and her friends got together to fight this tooth and nail in the courts.


I expect a county commissioner to recognize a huge potential tourism boom that benefits everyone in the county as an easy project to push along, but nope. We will get 20 years of lawsuit fighting before we get the trail and the two towns will see improvements and we'll see this opinion as flawed as everyone said when it was posted here in 2024.

madmacs

If one is so concerned about the property being used for light rail, it seems the best way to ensure it doesn't is build the trail. Trying to say one leads to the other is a total canard. Most of the "expense" of this trail was due to repaying grants that would not have had to been repaid were the trail actually to come to fruition. Many other counties and areas have trails that are in areas very similar to this and have not had any negative impact on farming.

Lulu

Why can't she do us all a huge favor and retire to the Parrett Mountain compound?

Linda

Cities and towns from Anchorage to Tucson have great trails for hiking and biking. They connect community and bring tourism. A few selfish farmers and their handmaids refuse to allow a vote.

Weatherby

Starrett wants to deny the opportunity for people to exercise their constitutional right to vote. She knows it would pass with flying colors. She throws out the cost, yet the amount of money this Board has wasted is many times that amount of money.

Weatherby

BTW, the notes don't point out that she was fired from KATU for her extremist views. What a resume. Had to come to Yamhill County and lie in order to get elected to something. Still an actor.

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