A bill aimed at expanding government oversight of “rails-to-trails” across farmland in Oregon, intended to prevent disruptions to agriculture, has died in committee.
House Bill 3367 would have required conditional use permits for certain projects in farm zones, such as converting railroad tracks to bike paths, which would allow neighboring farmers to weigh in on such proposals.
The Oregon Farm Bureau and conservation groups supported the bill, arguing that dealing with ongoing public recreation poses a much greater challenge for farmers than the passage of an occasional train.
Growers know when trains will travel across their property and can plan their operations accordingly, but they face greater difficulties when spraying, tilling or moving livestock near bikers and other visitors, proponents of HB 3367 said.
The Oregon Recreation and Park Association opposed the original version of the bill for allegedly threatening to interfere with a process that’s successfully created hundreds of miles of trails in the state.
Trails rarely encounter the type of problems anticipated by farmers, opponents of HB 3367 said.
Even trails that cross the farmland of willing landowners would be subject to greater scrutiny by county governments under the bill, ORPA said.
“Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water,” said Stephanie Redman, the group’s executive director, during a recent legislative hearing.
The original version of HB 3367 passed the House by a strong margin, but during Senate hearings, ORPA pressed for an amendment that would only require permits when the land is acquired through eminent domain.
Representatives of Oregon’s Department of Land Conservation and Development testified that permits are already required for certain trails, though not those which modify existing transportation easements.
Several park officials, however, told lawmakers that this process hasn’t been followed unfirmly across the state.
In the end, the Senate Committee on Environment decided to let the bill die during a May 27 work session rather than schedule further deliberations.
Cindy Robert, lobbyist for the ORPA, said the concept isn’t necessarily a “dud” but more time is needed to clarify existing regulations and how they’ve been applied.
Hopefully, a solution that makes sense for everyone can be found during a future legislative session, she said.