The Yamhill County commissioners are hell-bent on converting a three-mile stretch of abandoned railroad into a recreational trail.
Despite opposition from neighboring farmers and unfavorable rulings from the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeal, the county last month once again approved the project.
In 2017, Yamhill County paid $1.4 million for the “quit claim” deed to a 12.5-mile stretch of unused rail corridor that it intends to turn into the Yamhelas-Westsider trail for walkers and cyclists. The following year the county’s board of commissioners approved immediately developing nearly 3 miles of the trail between the towns of Yamhill and Carlton.
The rail right-of-way passes through active farming operations. Farmers adjoining the trail argue that a recreational trail will complicate pesticide applications due to required “setbacks” from such sensitive areas. They are also worried that their farms would become targets for activists who oppose pesticide application.
If the trail were created, the presence, or potential presence, of hikers or bikers would restrict the application of pesticides within 150 feet of the corridor. Farmers rightly argued that would create a hardship for neighboring operations.
In October LUBA blocked the county government’s approval of the project and ordered it to take a closer look at possible impacts on neighboring farms.
According to LUBA, Yamhill County didn’t adequately evaluate the project’s potential effects on pesticides under the “farm impacts test” because such setbacks are required even when the chemicals are used properly to avoid drift or over-spray.
LUBA has also ruled a bridge project along the proposed trail cannot proceed without a land use review.
Yet to be decided is the claim that the original right-of-way deeds are invalid without an operating rail line, rendering the county’s “quit claim” purchase of the corridor moot unless it plans to build a working railroad.
But, here again, the county is pressing the trail’s development. To minimize the perception of danger from pesticides, the county has decided to install explanatory signs about agricultural practices and warning visitors against trespassing.
Wendie Kellington, the attorney for farmers opposed to the trail, said the county’s findings are “gratuitously nasty and dismissive of the farmers’ concerns.”
No doubt the trail would be a boon for Yamhill County’s tourism industry. But it would negatively impact its neighbors. That, and the dubious legality of the project, should be enough to have it canceled.