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Farmers to tell ‘other side’ of Measure 37 story

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writers

December 23, 2006

Hood River Valley farmers and foresters want the public to hear the “other side of the story” about why they have filed Measure 37 claims.

Members of the Hood River Agriculture, Forestry and Landowners Association have rejected an offer of mediation from the Hood River Valley Residents Committee. The conservation group is seeking to negotiate how restored development rights from a successful Measure 37 claim will play out on the ground.

However, HRVRC recently filed three lawsuits that challenge the state’s methodology for setting compensation and waiving regulations on Measure 37 claims. HRAFLA believes that action interferes in a “business transaction” between aggrieved Measure 37 landowners and the government that stripped away a property right.

“They have already filed litigation against the state involving 29 of the valley’s landowners so it’s a little late for them to be asking for communication with us. Plus, what are they giving up since it’s our property rights that they want to mediate with?” asked Camille Hukari, a mid-valley orchardist and treasurer for HRAFLA.

“The concept that we are trying to ‘pave over paradise’ is sort of a Chicken Little ‘the sky is falling’ argument that is an emotional scare tactic to create fear. We think the facts will set the record straight.”

HRAFLA will begin setting its political and educational agenda at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 2, at the Pine Grove Grange. Since an organizational meeting earlier this month drew 70 landowners, the new group believes that membership will grow quickly.

In addition to Hukari, the HRAFLA board of directors includes: John Benton, president; Paul Mansur, vice-president; Debra Laraway, secretary; Rick Benjamin; Bill Bayless; and, Mary Thomas.

Laraway said two more board members are being sought and qualifying individuals have to own property in Hood River County. She said an official must be seated that represents each of the four districts in the county and both the tree fruit and forestry sectors. The other three members can be “at large” and a city resident would be a welcome addition.

“Sometimes it seems that people expect us to provide them with a landscape as they drive by. But there are so many realities about farming that we look forward to sharing,” said Laraway, a Pine Grove orchardist.

Benton, a west-side grower, said HRAFLA wants to take its message directly to the people — and the policy makers. He said opponents to Measure 37 tend to “distort” information in the hope of turning people against the law.

For example, he said HRVRC contends that support is fading for Measure 37 based on the results of a recent poll conducted by a “progressive” New York firm. However, Benton said the survey by Greenberg Quinland Rosner Research of 405 voters statewide asked questions that were engineered to get the desired negative response.

He believes that Measure 37 became law because landowners had spent 33 years having governments strip away up to 95 percent of the use and value of private property without compensation.

“We didn’t get a chance to vote on Senate Bill 100 that started this whole thing or any of the other regulations that were imposed on us. So, when the people finally did get a chance to speak, a supermajority of voters made their will known and that should be respected,” he said.

“Oregon basically drew a line around cities and has tried to shut down even reasonable development anywhere outside that line. So, Measure 37 was the only way that we had to restore fairness to the land-use system.”

Hukari said HRAFLA will be a presence in Salem for any discussion about Measure 37 in the upcoming legislative session. The organization intends to also participate in county hearings regarding Measure 37 development applications.

But equally important, said Thomas, a Parkdale orchardist, will be educating people about the economic realities of farming today.

“Farm families are part of America’s history and they (regulators) are slowly taking away our heritage,” she said.

For example, Thomas said foreign competitors are not held to the same labor and production standards so their fruit is priced much cheaper. Plus, the workforce from Mexico is expected to be reduced by 50 percent within the next five years, adding a picker shortage to a long list of concerns.

Hukari said HRAFLA will provide facts and figures to help the public better understand these challenges. She said Oregon has exacerbated the problems created by international trade laws with requirements that resource lands be preserved — whether or not they are usable for agriculture.

For example, Bayless, who owns 332 acres of forest on the Dee Highway, said it takes about 1,000 acres of timber to provide a sustainable harvest income. Yet the state makes it prohibitive to slice off even a few home sites for additional revenue.

“Zoning is appropriate in its place but the situation in this state is completely out of hand. And no one seems to understand that farming and forest are businesses and we are here to make a profit,” he said.

Hukari said HRAFLA is open to discussions about how to remedy the problem and still preserve the state agriculture base — but only with policymakers.

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For more information call Benton at 386-5673, Mansur at 386-6838, Laraway at 386-3318 or Hukari at 386-5785.

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