Harmony between farmers and wetland restorationists made more headway recently with a $30,000 Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) grant to help fund a 10-year pilot project negotiating future land use under Senate Bill 1517, also known as the Oregon Wetlands Bill (OWB).
By Ann Powers
Taking effect Jan. 1, OWB designates Tillamook County as the site for the decade-long project, creating a land use review process where restoration and agricultural communities partner on preserving high-value farmland in coordination with wetlands restoration. The Oregon Farm Bureau (OFB) and the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association proposed the legislation.
“Through this bill, Tillamook County and the local agricultural community will have greater input into the design of wetland projects to ensure that productive farmland is not negatively impacted,” OFB Public Policy Counsel Mary Anne Nash said when the bill was signed by Gov. Kate Brown earlier this year. “State agencies, conservation groups, farmers and other stakeholders will work collaboratively to achieve the goals of fish and wildlife improvements.”
In recent years, concerns have grown over conservation groups and governmental entities purchasing prime farmland in the county’s Exclusive Farm Use zone and taking it out of production for conservation purposes. This can alter rain drainage patterns and create serious flooding problems for neighboring farms, according to Chad Allen, Tillamook County Planning Commissioner and dairy farmer.
“Our goal in this entire process is to create an avenue for compatibility,” Allen said on Tillamook Today. “Certainly agriculture has been the backbone of the history of Tillamook County, but also the fisheries industry shares in that same situation. It’s really designed to be a win-win for everybody.”
About $110,000 has been raised in committed funds and approximately $150,000 is needed to launch the effort, according to Hilary Foote, Tillamook County Land Use Planner. The $30,000 OWEB grant was awarded at the Nov. 2 county commission’s regular meeting.
“We asked the Oregon Legislature and the Governor’s Office for funding to help us,” said Mark Labhart, Tillamook County Commission Chairman. “Thirty-thousand dollars is a huge amount for this project.”
Because OWB directs the county to develop a unique permitting process for the creation, restoration or enhancement of wetlands on lands zoned Exclusive Farm Use, Foote said the county will hire an independent consultant to produce a specific set of agro-economic and wetlands analyses.
“That information will be vetted through a robust public stakeholder engagement process and then ultimately integrated into the Tillamook County Comprehensive Plan and ordinances – the documents which the county relies on for guidance when evaluating permit applications,” she explained. “We hope to have the consultant on-board mid-December and expect to launch a public outreach campaign in the spring of 2017.”
Foote said about 40 contractors have expressed interest in “the very unique scope of work” containing agro-economic, wetland bioscience and public outreach components. The bidding closed Nov. 15.