March 25, 2022.
Ten years ago the saga of the Yamhelas-Westsider Trail (YWT) began when the group Friends of the Yamhelas-Westsider Trail (FYT) told the 2012 Yamhill County Board of Commissioners that local farmers had no objection to a trail through their farms. A letter from then Commissioner Kathy George explains that commissioners were “mislead” by FYT. The ‘mislead’ 2012 Commissioners allowed the idea of a hiking & biking trail to be entered into the Transportation Study Plan. The first grant money to pursue the project was obtained when the ‘Friends’ told the Mid-Willamette Valley Area Commission on Transportation (MWACT) the same ‘misleading’ statement, as verified by MWACT chairman Ken Woods. Farmers finally heard about the plan and not only did they object, they challenged the County.
Between 6/15/2018 and 12/20/2020 farmers won 5 of 5 decisions by the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA). LUBA remanded the County to conduct an agriculture impact study before proceeding with a non-conforming use in EFU zoning. Throughout the hearings the County ignored LUBA, first buying an abandoned rail line, then continuing work on a bridge as a first stage of developing a trail. Finally, LUBA ordered a permanent stop to the work and awarded legal fees to the plaintiff farmers. The County’s attempt to bleed the farmers legal fund failed and the legal game was over. Those ‘misleading’ statements and willingness to ignore land use procedures were expensive. The abandoned rail line cost the County $1.7 million. The bridge that was partially built and then ordered to be removed came to over $1 million. The County’s legal expenses, some reported and some not reported, was easily several hundreds of thousands of dollars and the legal fee reimbursement was $50,000. Various studies and planning exceeded $100 thousand. Tampering with grant funds disbursement easily added $50,000 more to the costs of this failed project.
None if this could have happened without those at the top levels of Yamhill County government showing a willingness to forego due process. None can claim they were unaware that they were complicit in a scheme to build a trail that violated land use laws and would harm farmers financially. They knew what they were doing and knew it was wrong. Emails from public records requests confirm this. Some distanced themselves from further scrutiny. Former County Administrator Laura Tschabold and former County Counsel Todd Sadlo took early retirement. Each deliberately made a major contribution to sidestepping due process. Current County Administrator Ken Huffer, County Counsel Christen Boenisch, Grants Coordinator Carrie Martin and Planning Director Ken Friday remain on the job and are undeterred from exercising personal partisanship on matters of the ‘Trail’ versus service to the general taxpaying public and adherence to laws we all must obey.
Emails obtained from public records requests have made clear the involvement of the leaders of the Friends of the Yamhelas-Westsider Trail, including Ken Wright, Wayne Wiebke, Phillip Higgins, Veronica Haley Hinkes with Commissioners Casey Kulla, Rick Olson and Stan Primozich plus the staff members named in the previous paragraph. Dates of those emails include 12/22/2020, 9/14/2020, 7/1/2021, 7/9/2021 and can be viewed in a booklet, The Truth About The Trail. That booklet can be viewed online at www.thetruthaboutthetrail.com. Foul play with grant money by Carrie Martin may have jeopardized relations with Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), which the County depends on for general work to build and maintain roads and bridges. ODOT’s displeasure is spelled out in detail in a 6/18/2020 email shown in the booklet.
In February of 2021, eight months after LUBA put a permanent stop to the Trail, the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners (BOC) withdrew the application for the Trail. Commissioner Casey Kulla then convinced Chehalem Parks and Recreation District executive director Don Clements to consider pursuing this clearly illegal project. In March 2021, the CPRD Board of Directors voted 3-1 for Don Clements to meet with County Administrator Ken Huffer to determine the factors involved in taking on this project, one which is well outside of the territory of the CPRD taxpayer funded operations. A full year has passed since then. Clements never made that report. The CPRD Board never asked why. Clements has facilitated many interactions with Friends of the Trail and CPRD Board members in that year. He is playing out a role called for in the 9/14/2020 email. He is allowing himself to become a candidate for joining that list of County officials named in paragraph three above.
CPRD needs to disengage from thoughts of involvement with the YWT before their credibility with taxpayers and ODOT is harmed. They have been encouraged to do so several times. CPRD relies on property taxes for near 33% of its $10 million annual budget with user fees and grant money being the other large sources of funds. CPRD facilities are quality and so are their operations. Leveraging those strengths in pursuit of a failed project outside of their taxing district is more than unwise. It makes you wonder what a public records request of CPRD correspondence with County staff leaders and Commissioner Kulla between February of 2021 to current date would show.