Linn and 12 other counties have asked the Oregon Supreme Court to review a decision overturning a $1.1 billion verdict in a case involving the state’s management of forest lands and timber harvesting revenues .
The call in the state’s highest court, filed last Wednesday, follows an April decision by the Oregon Court of Appeals that said the state did not have to pay counties for sales Of wood. Linn County, claiming it was wronged by the state, initially filed a lawsuit in 2016. The Supreme Court is set to decide whether to hear the appeal in the case.
Roger Nyquist, chairman of the Linn County Board of Commissioners, said Thursday he hoped the court would take up the case.
“We just think it’s a matter of such statewide concern that the highest court in the state should intervene,” he said. “Legal action aside, between the finance gap and the attitude gap between the rural and urban parts of the state, all of this calls for a solution.”
At stake in the case is timber revenue from more than 500,000 acres of timberland in Oregon’s western counties. In the 1930s and 1940s, the counties donated land to the state. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including about 150 government entities in the counties, argue that the state agreed to manage these forest lands for the “greatest permanent value”, which the counties interpreted as maximizing timber harvests and channeling associated revenues to predominantly rural counties. . The counties argue in the lawsuit that the agreement constituted a contract between the state and the counties.
The lawsuit, filed in Linn County Circuit Court, argued that changes beginning in 1998 in how the state managed these lands expanded the definition of “greatest permanent value” to include purposes environmental. This resulted in lower timber harvesting and lower county revenues.
“These promised revenues are a critical source of funding for services to rural Oregonians in particular,” John DiLorenzo Jr., the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, wrote in court documents filed with the Supreme Court. .
In its April decision, the Court of Appeals determined that the case turned on whether the law directing the state to “secure the greatest permanent value of such lands to the state” was part of the law. a contractual agreement between the state and the counties. The court concluded no.
Justice Douglas Tookey, writing for the Court of Appeal, concluded that the language and context regarding the phrase “greatest permanent value” does not “clearly and unequivocally create a contractual obligation”.
Tookey noted that “the management standard of ‘greatest permanent value’ is, to say the least, ambiguous as to whether it requires revenue maximization.” He wrote that the Linn County trial judge erred in not granting the state’s motion to dismiss the case.
DiLorenzo’s submission to the Supreme Court argues that the Court of Appeal’s decision misapplies the High Court’s framework for determining whether a particular provision forms part of a statutory contract. He also argues that the Court of Appeals misinterpreted a key earlier decision regarding a parcel of forest trust land in Linn County.
High stakes are at stake in this case, DiLorenzo wrote: “Whether the trial court judgment is upheld or reversed significantly affects communities whose economies and quality of life have been decimated by the loss of jobs. in the natural resources sector. These rural communities depend on the revenue stream from timber and the services they provide, and this call is their last opportunity to realize the value of the land they have handed down on the back of state promises.
DiLorenzo was unavailable for comment Thursday. Kristina Edmunson, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, did not return an email seeking comment on the appeal.
But when the Court of Appeals issued its decision in April, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and Governor Kate Brown both praised it. Brown said the decision validated the state’s “balanced, science-based approach to managing public forests. In Oregon, we manage our forests not only for the benefit and prosperity of this generation, but also for those to come.
Other counties listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Benton, Clackamas, Columbia, Coos, Douglas, Josephine, Lane, Lincoln, Marion, Polk, Tillamook and Washington.