A lawsuit seeking to have the courts strike down Measure 21-177, the barely-passed aerial spraying ban, has been filed in Lincoln County Circuit Court. The suit is brought by those against the ban – timber and farm interests, including chemical companies. Their lawsuit contends that the local measure is pre-empted by state law which allows aerial spraying. County Counsel Wayne Belmont told Lincoln County Commissioners this morning that the case will likely drag out over a period of time and hinted that Measure 21-177 or parts of it, will be frozen – not enforced – until the courts rule on the array of complaints those opposed to the measure have alleged in their suit.
Mr. Belmont reviewed a number of measures aimed at regulating agriculture (which includes timber) at the local level, including GMO’s in Jackson County and seed handling in Josephine and Benton Counties. The GMO ban was settled in Jackson County. A similar measure in Josephine County is still being litigated. He said the outcomes of these and other cases, including one now taking root in Lane County, illustrates that final court rulings can be a very mixed bag and that it takes time to fully come to grips with the full and long term implications and legalities of such local measures.
Mr. Belmont also brought up what’s called state pre-emption – that state laws often pre-empt or over-rule county or city laws if they go too far. He added that state laws, not county laws, regulate aerial spraying. So, he said, there is a strong likelihood that the court will find that any local county ordinance, created by the county commission or by the voters, that conflicts with state law is, on its face, invalid. But he hinted that when it comes to spraying near city and and rural community water supplies, there might be some room to amend state law or regulations.
However, Mr. Belmont added that if a judge allows the measure to take effect, Mr. Belmont said he would ask the court to specifically strike down a provision in Measure 21-177 that allows civilian “direct action” against anyone who violates the spray ban. Although measure supporters said such language does not legalize trespassing, violence or property damage, Mr. Belmont convinced the County Commissioners to remove that language from the measure.
Mr. Belmont emphasized that when a highly controversial ballot measure of great economic importance is passed, the losing side can be counted on to challenge the legality of the measure in court – to either strip some elements from the measure or have it struck down in its entirety based on the U.S. Constitution, federal, state or local laws.
This may take a while.
Meanwhile the sponsors of the spray ban measure, Citizens for a Healthy Lincoln County, are still formulating a response to the court challenge. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which provides legal assistance to local community rights groups issued this statement:
Lincoln County residents have faced decades of toxic aerial pesticide spraying by the industrial timber industry. Timber corporations repeatedly aerial spray toxic pesticides on clearcuts to kill off “competing” vegetation and animals that threaten newly planted and young commodity crop trees. Residents have been working with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) since 2013 to protect themselves from the dangerous practice. Measure 21-177 was drafted with CELDF’s assistance.
“It’s a legacy moment for our community – out with toxic corporate chemicals and in with protecting community rights,” said Rio Davidson, campaign member of Citizens for a Healthy County. The local group spearheaded the campaign in support of Measure 21-177.
“The win in Lincoln County is a win for all of Oregon. Lincoln residents are trailblazers, leading the way for other Oregon communities to assert their right to self-govern over corporate control,” says Kai Huschke, CELDF Northwest Organizer. He noted, “This will strengthen the work of the Oregon Community Rights Network, which is advancing a state constitutional amendment that recognizes the rights of all Oregon communities to local community self-government.”
The people’s win took place despite staggering campaign contributions from timber and chemical corporations. Nearly $300,000 was spent in the attempt to defeat Measure 21-177. Lincoln County residents fought back with $16,000.
Citizens for a Healthy County (CHC) and CELDF are preparing for a lawsuit, anticipating backlash from the timber industry in defiance of the vote and wishes of the people of Lincoln County. At stake: whether the right of local community self-government exercised to protect health, safety, and welfare is recognized by the courts as superior to corporate claimed “rights.”
CHC’s Rio Davidson said the local chapter will issue official reaction comments within a day or two.