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Class action lawsuit against state awards funds to counties, taxing districts

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - A log train travels through Columbia County, parallel to Highway 30.A jury has awarded more than $1 billion to rural Oregon counties in the lawsuit filed against the Oregon Department of Forestry. Columbia County was a party in the class-action lawsuit.

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 counties 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 $1.1 billion, including $674 million in lost revenue to the counties and $392 million in future damages, assuming the state won't change their forest management approach, the Oregonian reported.

The state is likely to appeal.

Columbia County accounts for 6,459 of the 729,859 acres managed by the Board of Forestry. Clatsop County, which opted out of the lawsuit, accounts for 146,927 acres.

"This money goes to schools, the county, the county general fund," Columbia County Commissioner Margaret Magruder said earlier this month, while the trial was ongoing.

"I certainly think that there are several areas that could benefit from it," she added, noting calls from community members regarding deteriorating roads and other costly issues.

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.

Locally, those taxing districts included Columbia 4-H, Columbia County Development Agency, the 911 district, St. Helens' parks and recreation district, Portland Community College, and the school districts of St. Helens, Rainier, Scappoose, Vernonia, and Mist-Birkenfeld.

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