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House passes wildfire damage assessment bill


By MITCH LIES



Capital Press



SALEM -- The Oregon House has given unanimous approval to a bill to create a system for determining the cost of wildfire damage.



House Bill 3201, which is designed to help landowners avoid unsubstantiated loss claims, passed the House on April 29 by a vote of 55-0.



HB3201 was drafted in response to a 2007 incident in California that resulted in Sierra Pacific agreeing to pay the federal government $122.5 million in compensation for damage to federal forests in Lassen and Plumas counties.



The logging company agreed to the high settlement, reportedly well above the value of timber lost, after the federal government reportedly sought $790 million in damages from the Moonlight Fire.



In earlier hearings, HB3201 drew support from the Oregon Department of Forestry and forest products industry groups.



Jim Geisinger, executive vice president of Associated Oregon Loggers, said the bill provides a fair method for assessing damages and penalizes bad behavior.



The bill allows parties to seek up to double the fair market value of damages in cases where the fire occurred as a result of gross negligence, willfulness or malice.



Heath Curtis of the Oregon Forest Industries Council said he believes the bill is fair to those harmed by fire and those bearing responsibility for it.



The bill now goes to the Senate.



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