ACTION ALERT! Stop The Legislative Assault On Our Rural Lands

Mary Kyle McCurdy
Wed, 06/14/2017 - 9:30am

Stop the erosion of Oregon’s land use laws TODAY!

Two Senate bills that deteriorate our land use system received a hearing this week. Both passed through the Senate Committee on Rules without any recommendation. As of this update (6/28/17) we are waiting to see where these bills go next. 

SB 432 will allow counties to remove land use laws from large portions of eastern Oregon and SB 644 would allow strip-mining on farmland in the same region. The natural beauty and valuable working lands of a large portion of our state are under immediate threat! These bills individually are bad enough, but in tandem they are an outright assault on the preservation of our rural landscape and the valuable agricultural work that takes place there. 

Contact your state senator to tell them to stop SB 432 and SB 644 TODAY!

About Senate Bill 432

SB 432, and the various proposed revisions to it, would remove Oregon’s land use planning protections from all or most of eastern Oregon.

SB 432 would apply to counties under 50,000 that had no population growth between the 2000-2010 decennial census, as well as to the cities in those counties.  The most recent version would allow a qualifying city or county to take an "exception" to any land use planning Goal, anywhere, for almost any reason. The broad list of reasons includes:

  • Creating opportunities for business development in rural or urban areas
  • Retaining and expanding existing businesses, in rural or urban areas
  • Providing housing in rural or urban areas

Therefore, a city or county could take an exception that covers all or part of the jurisdiction for any of these broad reasons, effectively negating urban growth boundaries, exclusive farm use zoning, requirements for affordable housing, natural resource protections (other than a sage grouse exemption), and more. It is, effectively, a removal of the statewide land use planning Goals entirely.

Read our stakeholder opposition letter here.

About Senate Bill 644

Senate Bill 644 SB 644, and the various revisions to it that have been proposed, would limit the ability of eastern Oregon local communities and farmers to prevent large-scale mining operations, like the Grassy Mountain gold mine, on farmland and core wildlife habitat areas.

The bill gives large mineral mines the same priority status as farming on Eastern Oregon’s farmlands, regardless of the impacts of the mining on nearby farming operations and without assurance of any benefits to the local economy. The bill also:

  • Will give miners a “right to mine” on farmland and an automatic legal defense to negligence and trespass claims arising out of mining operations
  • Will prevent holders of grazing leases from commenting on the impacts of nearby mining operation
  • Will prevent local governments from limiting the impacts of mining operations or putting conditions on mining permits to prevent habitat loss or impacts on neighboring landowners.

Eastern Oregon’s farming communities, iconic places, and critical wildlife habitats are at risk of being destroyed by large-scale mining operations.  Mining is not a farm use. Large-scale mining will negatively impact farming operations and wildlife habitats in Eastern Oregon, with no assurance of local economic benefit. These large-scale mineral mines should not be permitted on farmland without appropriate limitations.

SB 432 and SB 644 bills will certainly harm eastern Oregon’s # 1 industry – agriculture. They will also...

  • Create uncertainty and inconsistency in how land is used and what development would be allowed.
  • Harm the natural amenities that support other, growing industries in eastern Oregon.
  • Weaken the years of effort the State of Oregon, eastern Oregon counties, and a broad array of stakeholders invested in the state sage-grouse conservation plan that can help prevent further decline of the species and the potential for an endangered species listing.
  • Possibly cause population decreases: The largest source of population growth in rural America is in agricultural products that are traded-sector, and that is eastern Oregon’s major industry.

Eastern Oregon does not need these bills which threaten its top industry – farming. The #1 agricultural product in Oregon is cattle and calves, which are largely produced in eastern Oregon.  Of Oregon‘s top 20 agricultural products, many are grown primarily in eastern Oregon, including hay, wheat, potatoes, onions, and mint. Southeastern Oregon has almost 3,000 farms, producing a market value of over $715 million and generating many times that amount in related local jobs and businesses.  Northeastern Oregon has 2,547 farms, including 230,000 acres of irrigated land.  This farm and ranch land produces a market value of over $248 million, which multiplies many times over in the agricultural-related local businesses and workers that prosper because of the agricultural industry.

SB 432 puts at risk the land base needed for the leading industry in most, if not all, these counties, for no reason other than speculation that something might replace it. SB 644 would prioritize the destruction of this land base over the agricultural use of it. In tandem, these bills would be disastrous for eastern Oregon. 

There are more effective solutions for growing and diversifying the eastern Oregon economy, including investment in: value-added production; research & development of new products; growing local businesses related to the region’s assets, such as recreation and tourism; and investing in diverse types of infrastructure, including roads, high-speed internet service, and improved air access, and the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program.

Please contact your Senator TODAY! Ask them to say 'NO' to SB 432 and SB 644.