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Yamhelas Westsider Trail County Update

April 26, 2021

At their last meeting County commissioners continued to discuss how to deal with grant repayment demands triggered by their decision to stop all work on the trail. They also discussed a slew of emails regarding the trail that were released through a public-records request, and have published those documents on the county’s website. Eventually they will also publish staff answers to commissioners’ questions on the topics.

In advance of the publishing of the records or any staff responses, there were accusations being thrown around purporting nefarious dealings within the County and in communications with our organization.

The big myth at the heart of these accusations is that the Land Use Board of Appeals and ODOT had declared the trail dead last year. This is false.

LUBA did not issue its most recent ruling until December 30, 2020. When it did, it refused to grant the opponents’ request to reverse (nullify) the County’s Conditional Use Permit decision for the trail, and specifically said that the trail is not legally prohibited. The rest of the ruling was split between items where it ruled in favor of the County, and items where the County would have to do more to prevent impacts on adjacent farms. LUBA expressly declined to kill the trail outright.

ODOT did express concern about the land use process and required the county to come up with a certain date the trail could open to the public. ODOT entered into negotiations with the county on this issue, and were willing to work with the county as long as they felt the County was pursuing the trail.

ODOT did not demand grant repayment until the BOC stopped the land use process this year.

The Friends of the Yamhelas Westsider Trail is a non-profit organization that advocates for the development of multi-use trails that support the health, safety and connectivity of our community. We enthusiastically partner with entities whose mission matches ours.

The Yamhelas Westsider Trail project was born from a citizen-driven vision for the historic railroad corridor between McMinnville and Gaston. County Commissioners supported the idea, and the Friends of the Yamhelas Westsider Trail non-profit group was created to be a cooperative partner in the project. We have remained partners through the past decade as subsequent county commissions have continued to support the project. This is the first county commission since the project started to have a majority in opposition to the trail.

Recently, the County reached out to the Friends to explore various ideas and options for stewardship of the railroad corridor for public use. We see this transportation corridor as an extremely important public asset that should be protected for the future needs of the county. After doing our due diligence we determined that it was not feasible for FYWT to lease or take ownership of any property.

We recognize the widespread community support for the Yamhelas Westsider Trail, and calls for developing this opportunity to enhance the health, safety, connectivity and economic vitality of Yamhill County citizens and communities. We believe this is the best use of this historic transportation corridor and this corridor presents the most realistic opportunity for a trail.

Oregon’s strong land use laws protect the balance of many different publicly beneficial land uses, and provide a road map for successful coexistence. We support continued conversations with opponents, especially adjacent landowners, to find solutions to issues they foresee, as has been done on countless trails around the state and country.

FYWT remains committed to our mission, to this trail and to the network of trails in our region.

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