SALEM — While bringing a hay exporter one step closer to rebuilding his burned-down barns, Oregon lawmakers are preparing for a broader discussion about wetland regulations.
After fire destroyed his two barns last year, state regulators informed hay exporter Jesse Bounds that rebuilding the structures violated Oregon fill-removal law because his 12-acre property near Junction City was a wetland.
The parcel wasn’t identified as a wetland on federal, state or county maps, but the Department of State Land nonetheless determined the project required a wetland fill-removal permit due to soil characteristics and other features.
Under state law, the fact that Bounds had received county approval for rebuilding the barn was irrelevant.
The House Agriculture Committee has now approved a bill that would change Oregon fill-removal law to rectify the situation for Bounds and farmers who find themselves in a similar dilemma.
On April 13, the committee unanimously referred House Bill 2785 for a vote on the House floor with a “do pass” recommendation.
Under HB 2785, fill-removal requirements would not apply when replacing a dwelling or agricultural building on farmland, as long the structure receives county approval, existed before 2017 and would be located on the same parcel.
The committee’s chairman, Brian Clem, D-Salem, said the bill is “just a tiny starting place” for dealing with conflicts that may arise from Oregon’s wetland rules.
Wetlands are “treasured in this state” but it’s been too long since lawmakers looked at how they’re defined and the process for resolving fill-removal disputes, Clem said.
“Sorry to spring this on you, but prepare to deal with wetlands for another year,” he said.
For example, lawmakers should consider the creation of authoritative maps for identifying wetlands and whether fill-removal enforcement should remain complaint-driven, as it is now, Clem said.
Another bill being considered by the House Agriculture Committee, House Bill 2786, proposes a more extensive solution by exempting properties from fill-removal law unless they’re included in the State Wetland Inventory.
The Oregon Farm Bureau and the Oregonians in Action property rights group support HB 2786, arguing that landowners need a reliable method to determine if they’re subject to wetland rules, other than waiting for a complaint to DSL.
However, opponents of the bill claim the State Wetland Inventory sets the definition for “wetland” too narrowly, since it doesn’t include many wetlands.
A work session on HB 2786 was scheduled for April 13, but it was carried over to a future committee meeting.
Two committee members who were first elected to the House last year — Rep. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, and Rep. Karin Power, D-Milwaukie — volunteered to work toward a longer-term solution on the wetland question.
Clem attributed their requests to “freshman enthusiasm.”
“Wow, you are a glutton for punishment,” he said.