Chehalem Mountain resident, opponent of marijuana facility dies
A mother, neighbor and longtime opponent of a marijuana and hemp processing facility on Chehalem Mountain died Sept. 28.
Laura Cochran, who spent much of the final five years of her life fighting against a facility run by OreTex Farms that she viewed as harmful to her severely disabled son, had dealt with some unforeseen health issues in recent months and died in late September.
"For those lucky enough to have met her and befriended her early on, we will mourn this lovely person who, starting in 2015, so valiantly and diligently devoted her life to fighting the atrocity at 18505 N.E. Jaquith Road, the horrible effects it had on her personal life and the damage it caused her severely disabled son Sean," friend and neighbor Lindsey Noss said in a letter to community members. "For years, Laura worked day and night to protect all of us, our homes and Chehalem Mountain from what has unfortunately been approved by Yamhill County with SDR-28-19."
On Jan. 9, Cochran and dozens of her neighbors packed into the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners' meeting and voiced their displeasures with the facility in their neighborhood, citing the noise, smell, disruption and water usage as reasons why it should not move forward. The board of commissioners approved the facility, and the decision was later upheld by the Land Use Board of Appeals.
The heart of the appellants' argument was the impact this facility and others on the nearby property have had on Cochran's severely autistic son, Sean.
"Stuck inside during previous processing, Sean basically had a mental breakdown," Cochran said at the time. "He scraped the paint and the sheet rock off the walls in our home. He harmed himself and those taking care of him, and he started smashing his head into walls.
"There is no other farm in my neighborhood that sickens neighbors, stops breathing, sends people to the emergency room, glues eyes shut, makes children and grandchildren housebound. No other farm crop is illegal to sell within a thousand feet of a school. It's a chemical refinery that creates industrial noise 24 hours a day."
While Cochran and her neighbors' efforts were unsuccessful in stopping the facility from moving forward, she and Sean lived at their home on Chehalem Mountain right up until her death. Neighbors speculate that the stresses of her fight against the facility worsened her health issues and eventually led to her death. The family has not released a cause of death.
"She was a kind and compassionate neighbor and friend," Noss said. "The loss of Laura Cochran will be felt deeply by the residents of Chehalem Mountain, her friends and family. What a tragic and unnecessary loss for all of us in this continuing horrific problem that has so negatively impacted our lives and our futures. I am personally at a loss for words at the disgraceful outcome."
Jenny Backstrand, a friend of Cochran's, wrote a furious letter to Yamhill County officials in the wake of Cochran's death, blaming commissioners and others for her untimely demise.
"(Your) reckless decisions and actions are directly responsible for the incredible amount of stress put on Laura Cochran, which finally took its toll on her health and contributed to her premature death," Backstrand wrote. "Shame on all of you. I bet you didn't even wonder for a second why her voice was silent the last few months, did you? I bet you were just relieved you didn't hear from her at all. You now have your first casualty from your decisions. …. You can be sure we will alert as many residents as possible.
"I hope you are unable to sleep at night anymore ... like me and other friends and family who loved Laura Cochran She was truly an angel on Earth. I miss my sweet, caring, intelligent, faithful friend and neighbor, Laura Cochran. I hope you feel some sense of guilt for the horrible pressure you put on her, while she begged and pleaded to get SOMEONE, ANYONE to help her."
It has been a challenging year to say the least for residents of Chehalem Mountain, with Cochran's death coming after LUBA rejected its appeal of the marijuana and hemp facility's land use, and after a wildfire raged on 750 acres of land on the mountain.
While the next steps for Cochran's son aren't yet clear and the family has yet to release information on a memorial service, neighbors remain angry about the factors they believe contributed to her death and are mourning the loss of a local leader.
"It is so tragic and unnecessary, and with everything else that we residents have dealt with up here on Chehalem Mountain with the fires … we are maxed out with our stress levels," Noss said.
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