Though a picturesque covered bridge may symbolize simplicity in design as well as singularity in function, the Upper Yachats River Bridge has fallen into what appears to be a terribly complicated battlefield. Homeowner Katrina Wynne, and her legal advisor (not an attorney) Thomas Anderson all but guaranteed the Lincoln County Commission this week that the next time they see each other will be in Circuit Court and perhaps all the way to the State Supreme Court.
The covered bridge is in need of some very substantial repairs and the county has received a large federal grant to cover most of the costs. But in order to have that federal grant come through, the public have direct access to it, which presumes access from both sides. The road leading up to the bridge, North Yachats River Road, is a normal piece of pavement that branches off from the main stem of Yachats River Road. The road that branches off from there to the bridge is on North Yachats River Road and is presumed to continue across the bridge and onto the other side of the North Yachats River.
But the woman who lives in the house immediately adjacent to the bridge claims she owns the land where the county claims the public road crosses. Which means she denies it’s a public road. County Public Works Director Jim Buisman said it IS a public road and he’s got proof. Homeowner Katrina Wynne says she has proof that he’s WRONG. And she gave an exhausting account of what she claimed were supportable remembrances, personal and neighbor documents and even official county documents that refute Buisman’s position. Buisman laid out his documentation, his own personal remembrances, offered testimony of public works road crews that predated him as having maintained the road beyond the bridge, complete with signed documents from them, all refuting Wynne.
At that point Wynne’s legal advisor Thomas Anderson, reiterated their claim that the county was trying to legalize, for public use, a private road. Anderson claimed that because the county had initiated a legalization process back in 1980, but never finished it, means, under state law, the county, in effect, accepted that it was not a public road. Buisman said nothing of the sort happened – that because the forest service was in the process of remapping the area, the county backed off to let that process be completed. The fact that the county never came back to finish the job, he said, was probably due to other priorities emerging that were deemed more important.
Buisman said construction crews will need to build a temporary bridge just upstream so they can access both sides of the river while renovating the bridge. And that includes heavy lifting equipment.
Sharon Salizar, a member of the Covered Bridge Society of Oregon testified that preserving the Upper Yachats River Bridge is very important since it is one of only four covered bridges left standing in Lincoln County where there used to be 26. There are only 52 of them left in the entire state.
In a moment of trademark Terry Thompson clarity, the commissioner asked Salizar “Do you know of any covered bridge in Oregon that dead ends on one side of a river?” After a brief pause Salizar muttered, “W-well no. I don’t.” The bridge in question was built in 1938 with county taxpayer dollars for the tidy sum of $1,500.
County Counsel Wayne Belmont said that the very power of road legalization is given to local governments precisely because there are many instances of irreconcilable differences of opinion and memory about history, government or private intent, apparent conflicts in personal and government records and endless streams of he say, she say. What matters is the road, and, in one example, if it’s been serviced by a county road crew for more than ten years, it can be considered a public right of way. Or just by unrestricted use by the public it can create a prescriptive right, in some instances. It’s all very complicated.
With that, commissioners voted unanimously to move ahead with the legalization of the 805 road past the north end of the bridge, to aid in the repair of the old structure. The action is expected to be formalized within the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, Anderson appeared poised to seek a court injunction to stop the action if the county follows through with it. It was said earlier in the meeting that if “for some reason” renovation of the bridge is stalled, the county can get a time extension on the grant.