Opponents of a power transmission line across farm and forest land in Tillamook County hope to convince the Oregon Court of Appeals the project was improperly approved.

Last year, Tillamook County granted a conditional use permit for the construction of the 9-mile transmission line, which critics claim will unnecessarily disrupt agriculture and forestry in its path.

Tilla-Bay Farms, a local dairy, and the Oregon Coast Alliance, a conservation group, unsuccessfully challenged that decision before Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals, which in March rejected their objections to the proposal.

The project’s opponents believe that LUBA wrongly upheld the county’s decision, arguing that its approval didn’t comply with the proper standards and procedures under Oregon land use law.

While the complaints about the transmission line’s practical effects are straightforward — such as negative health impacts for livestock and interference with spray operations — the oral arguments held May 30 in Salem pertained to technical aspects of the county’s deliberations.

Specifically, the legal questions focused on whether the county could permit a transmission line in estuary zones because it’s a development similar to an electrical distribution line.

Tillamook County determined it’s unclear whether a transmission line is allowable in such zones, which allowed the local government to analyze and approve the project as a “similar use.”

Greg Hathaway, attorney for the project’s opponents, argued that Tillamook County’s land use ordinance makes clear that transmission lines aren’t allowed in estuary zones, so such a “similar use” approval is unavailable.

“These findings are inadequate,” he said. “They don’t explain under the circumstances why the ordinance is unclear.”

The Tillamook People’s Utility District, which intends to build the transmission line, disagrees with this assessment and believes the county’s board of commissioners used the appropriate analysis.

“I think the board very clearly determined that the ordinance was unclear and then it explained why,” said Tommy Brooks, attorney for the utility district.

The conduit lines proposed for the project are the same as those used for distribution lines and won’t require support structures within the estuary zones, he said.

“From a practical standpoint, it would be absurd to say one conductor is allowed and an identical conductor is not allowed,” Brooks said.

Apart from the legal dispute over land use law, opponents of the transmission line are also fighting the utility district’s ability to condemn farm and forest land.

Last year, the project’s critics argued before the Oregon Public Utility Commission that the project doesn’t justify using the power of eminent domain. The commission hasn’t yet reached a decision on that question.

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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