The Wallowa County Planning Commission recently denied a conditional use permit to Joseph Branch Trail Consortium to build a trail between Joseph and Enterprise. Attending that hearing, as well as every county meeting concerning the trail since the summer 2016, I’ve found it’s been an interesting learning experience.
Like politicians with no resonating message, JBTC has rebooted. Initially, a trail was promoted to adjacent landowners as bringing an economic boom. The 63-mile trail would bring in higher paying jobs by providing a necessary amenity — luring young professionals. Additionally, money spent by visiting cyclists from around the nation would help save the towns of Lostine and Wallowa — said to be drying up. It was unfair, they noted, that Joseph received all the tourists’ monies. How could we as landowners stand in the way of economic growth and prosperity for the county we all love?
After two years of silence, trail proponents emerged for last month’s hearing. Coming to my mind was a “Virginia Slims” marketing slogan: “You’ve come a long way, baby,” and the trail’s rationale certainly has. No longer about the economy nor promoting a 63-mile trail — though that’s still the real plan — today we are being pitched a local six-mile trail with clear, succinct bullet points: Health, safety and community. Who could be opposed?
However, behind these wonderful ideals, and out of the public eye, a classic David vs. Goliath scenario is being played out. An extremely energized, well-funded and organized special interest group has skillfully crafted this bogus health, safety, community message. Their application was filled with partial truths, half-truths and untruths, backed up with “studies,” some up to 30 years outdated, while using selective data from others. Tens of thousands of dollars in grant money has allowed for the hiring of a slew professionals to produce this application. The conflict can be summed up as a powerful group pushing a recreational trail vs. hard working, local agriculture producers, long-time county residences with a record of supporting the community.
Fortunately, the commission turned down their application. The reason was not that the presenter had not been marvelous, nor that the application was not colorful and comprehensive, not even that the energized group of trail supporters didn’t come out in full force. It seems clear that the reason for denial was that Oregon law protects agriculture producers from being forced into a significant loss of revenue and/or disruption of normal farm practices by developers in areas that are zoned Exclusive Farm Use. The commission seems to be following the law.
To date, JBTC has cherry picked data from nonscientific surveys to produce an illusion of massive public support, a successful ploy.
It’s obvious why those in agriculture located along the proposed trail are fighting this latest recreational opportunity. Here’s two reason why this should matter to the entire county.
First, who’s paying for the 6-8 million dollar trail? Tax payers, of course. In order to fund state grants — like ones that will be used to pay for this trail — in Salem, right now, a super majority of liberals are rapidly moving bills that will strip Oregonians of the kicker refund, eliminate the home mortgage interest deduction, increase $800 million in “sin taxes,” increase property taxes by up to 40 percent, and lastly add 16 cents to the cost a gallon of gasoline. Federal grants to be used simply add to our national deficit. WE PAY!!
Also consider, pitting our county agriculture industry — the largest production sector of our economy — against tourism is foreboding. To date, agriculture and tourism have always supported one other; both are important to a healthy economy. JBTC does not understand nor value our agriculture lifestyle, setting up an unhealthy county dynamic. Ultimately, Wallowa County’s rural, conservative values will be affected.
Don’t fall prey to the spin, you can support health, safety and community and oppose this trail.