Timber Trust counties awarded $1B in state lawsuit
A Linn County jury has awarded more than $1 billion to Washington County and several other Oregon counties in a lawsuit filed against the Oregon Department of Forestry.
On Wednesday, Nov. 20, the 12-person jury found in favor of counties and taxing districts that argued the state had not harvested enough timber from lands that counties had handed over to the state years ago.
The Forest Trust Land Counties had given land to the state between 1939 and 1950 on the condition that the state would share revenue from timber harvests.
The 13 counties — including Washington County, which was a party to the lawsuit — argued that the state had not harvested timber for the "greatest permanent value" to the state, as was agreed upon when the lands were handed over.
In 1998, the state adopted the "greatest permanent value" rule, which went beyond monetary value to include environmental and social values.
The jury awarded the counties and taxing districts about $1.06 billion, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting, a news partner of the News-Times.
Some 48,458 acres of forestland in Washington County are owned by the state. The Tillamook State Forest stretches into western Washington County.
Washington County has historically ranked in the top three among counties receiving state timber payments per year. Clatsop and Tillamook counties, which have larger portions of state forestland, are also among the top recipients. However, the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners opted out of the lawsuit led by Linn County.
The class action lawsuit ultimately represented Benton, Clackamas, Columbia, Coos, Douglas, Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Marion, Polk, Tillamook, and Washington counties, as well as 151 local taxing districts within those counties and Clatsop County.
The state is expected to appeal the decision in Linn County Circuit Court, OPB reported. That appeal would be filed in the Oregon Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel — rather than a jury — would decide the case.
Oregon Public Broadcasting, a media partner of the News-Times, and Mark Miller contributed to this report.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.