The breach of contract class action suit seeks $1.4 billion in damages from the state.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - Linn County officials plan to sue the state for improper management of forestland. A proposed class-action lawsuit could include 15 counties that get funds from state trust lands.Linn County Board of Commissioners said Thursday that it will file a class action lawsuit seeking more than $1.4 billion damages from the state for breach of contract in management of forestland in 15 counties.

The lawsuit is scheduled to be filed at noon Thursday in Linn County Circuit Court. A judge will need to approve class-action status of the lawsuit.

Pamplin Media Group
EO Media GroupThe county notified the state of its intent to file the lawsuit Jan. 13 on behalf of 150 taxing districts that benefit from sales receipts from harvests of Oregon Forest Trust Lands. So far, the county has received no proposal from the state to address its claims, according to a county news release.

Districts include schools, public safety, libraries and other services.

“The state’s contractual obligation is to manage our forests in a way that benefits both rural counties and the environment,” said Roger Nyquist, chairman of the Linn County Board of Commissioners, said in a statement. “They’re not doing that, and rural communities are paying the price. I believe that a jury will reach the same conclusion.”

Kristen Grainger, Gov. Kate Brown’s spokeswoman, said she is not authorized to comment on pending litigation.

In a Feb. 19 letter to members of the Forest Trust Land Advisory Committee, Tom Imeson, chairman of the Forestry Board, and Doug Decker, state forester, wrote:

"We believe that a collaborative process that includes input from the FTLAC - rather than litigation - is in the best interest of all Oregonians who care about the future of these lands and the benefits they provide."

Nyquist estimated receiving class-action status would take 30 to 60 days.

"We regret that it has come to this, but we are going forward looking for a resolution," Nyquist said. "We view this contract as an asset of the citizens of Linn County and have a fiduciary duty to attempt to make sure it gets executed."

The 15 counties named in the lawsuit will then have 60 days to opt out. The counties are Benton, Clackamas, Clatsop, Columbia, Coos, Douglas, Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk, Tillamook and Washington.

"The response from the counties has been generally supportive, and none of them so far has indicated they are opting out," Nyquist said

Best forest practices?

Linn County claims the state has habitually violated its contract with Forest Trust Land counties since 1998 by executing a new management plan that focused less on generating revenue. That plan has shortchanged the counties of $35 million in revenue annually since 2001, Nyquist said.

That unrealized revenue has contributed to higher poverty rates and stunted employment opportunities in timber counties, according to the county’s claim.

“This is a straight-forward breach of contract case,” said John DiLorenzo, Linn County’s attorney. “The state’s breach has strained county budgets and impacted public safety, education and other basic services local citizens need. They’re not getting the benefit of their bargain with the state.”

DiLorenzo also represents a group of plaintiffs who is suing the city of Portland for alleged misuse of utility ratepayer money.

The county claims that the breach of contract began in 1998 when the state adopted a new rule that “de-emphasized revenue generation for the counties in exchange for other objectives.” That rule resulted in less revenue for Forest Land Trust counties compared with the revenue generated on other forestland under “best forest management practices,” the county claims.

By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
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