Two Oregon senators from eastern Oregon, Bill Hansell (R-Athena) and Cliff Bentz (R-Ontario) have co-sponsored a bill with Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) to free up some land for productive use in the counties of Baker, Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Lake, Malheur, Sherman, Union, Wallowa, and Wheeler. SB 2 would allow up to 50 acres of land to be used “for industrial and other employment uses notwithstanding statewide planning goals related to agriculture, forest use or urbanization” if the county conducts a detailed “economic opportunity analysis.”
Detailed it is. SB 2 uses thirty-eight lines of legal language to spell out exactly how detailed the analysis must be and how it must be coordinated with state agencies, but if after doing the homework the county finds value in developing a patch of land that is currently zoned out of the economy by state land-use regulations, then an exception can be made.
Certain terms and conditions do apply. If the land has been designated as “high-value farmland,” it would be ineligible for this development. If the land is covered by the Oregon Sage-Grouse Action Plan and Executive Order 15-18, forget about it. If it’s designated as a forest, there is some coordination required with the State Forester, but on balance this is relative progress for the 2019 legislative session. Hopefully it proves more workable than General William T. Sherman’s promise of 40 acres and a mule to freed slaves made 154 years ago this month.
Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there.