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Jury in class action suit awards past and future damages to rural counties; state to appeal

PMG FILE PHOTO - A Linn County jury agreed with plaintiff attorneys that the states obligation to secure the greatest permanent value out of land conveyed to the state from the counties decades earlier was solely restricted to timber sales and did not include environmental stewardship as the state asserted. Columbia County is set to receive nearly $15 million from the State of Oregon from the class action lawsuit that went to trial this month.

The Linn County jury awarded more than $1 billion to rural Oregon counties and taxing districts.

Columbia County was awarded $7,551,189 in past damages and $7,355,610 in future damages.

That is equivalent to $288 dollars per resident of Columbia County.

The county assessor would be in charge of distributing the funds between the county and local taxing districts.

The jury agreed with attorneys for the class action counties that the Oregon Department of Forestry breached "their contractual duty 'to secure the greatest permanent value of those lands to the state,' as that term was understood by the parties in 1941," the verdict stated.

In total, the jury awarded $674,020,873 in past damages and $391,898,527 in future damages.

On Tuesday, the Oregonian reported that half of the plaintiff counties would essentially lose money on the lawsuit, despite the high dollar awards.

The award would ultimately be paid by taxpayers, primarily through personal income taxes. The Oregonian found that for eight of the counties in the lawsuit, the cost through personal income taxes would exceed the amount awarded. Columbia County, along with other rural counties, would earn more than the cost.

"As far as the funds are concerned, whether they're more or less, if they had been distributed all along, we wouldn't even have to worry about this, would we?" Columbia County Commissioner Margaret Magruder said Tuesday.

The state plans to appeal the ruling, which would mean more legal fees for both sides and more time for the 9% annual interest on the judgement to grow.

"Rest assured that we're not going to spend any of that money until it's in our hands," Magruder said.

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