Environmentalists vs. The NIMBYS

It’s the environmentalists vs. The NIMBYS – and Umatilla county property owners are caught in the crossfire
By Oregonians In Action,

Oregonians In Action is working closely with Umatilla County property owners to defeat an ordinance proposed by a Umatilla County resident that would create new regulations similar to the Columbia River Gorge Act on over 200,000 acres of Umatilla County.

The purpose of the proposed ordinance is to protect the scenic views in the eastern portion of the county.  The ordinance is being proposed as a Goal 5 amendment to Umatilla County’s Comprehensive Plan.  Goal 5 is the state’s natural resources goal, covering scenic views, open spaces, wetlands, riparian areas, historic properties, etc.

The reason for the proposal is unique – a small group of Umatilla County property owners have joined forces with the City of Milton Freewater to fight two companies interested in leasing rural property for “wind farms.”

The wind farms are essentially a series of large wind turbines used to generate electricity.  Wind power has long been a favorite of the environmental community, as an alternative to other forms of power generation, such as hydroelectric (dams) or coal.

Wind power generation is currently heavily subsidized by government, and its potential to provide sufficient power to serve as a true alternative is questionable.  But companies across the United States have formed to determine whether the technology can work.

Recently, two companies have begun leasing property from Umatilla County farmers and ranchers to install wind turbines.  The company places turbines on the property, and the farmer gets a check, while continuing the agricultural activities on the farm.  It’s a win-win for the property owner and the company.

But the Milton Freewater City Council and a couple of rural residents have decided that wind turbines are ugly, and offend their visual sensibilities.  As a result, a single property owner has crafted a lengthy ordinance that would impose a “scenic view overlay” on the eastern portion of Umatilla County.  And the ordinance affects far more than wind turbines.

Under the terms of the ordinance, nearly all structures would be “regulated” on any private property that can be viewed from a highway or county road.  Structures include barns, corrals, pens, and dwellings, along with wind turbines.  Unfortunately, the proposed regulations are so onerous and subjective that they would be impossible to meet.

“It’s the environmentalists versus the NIMBYs” said Dave Hunnicutt, OIA President.  “Normally, we’d stay out of that fight.  But in this case, Umatilla County property owners are going to be tremendously impacted, so we’re involved.”

The proponents of the ordinance claim that the ordinance is important because having structures that can be viewed by drivers traveling through Umatilla County disrupts the beautiful view of the Blue Mountains, as well as local residents, including the townfolk in Milton Freewater.

One can only imagine the sheer horror that a motorist would encounter upon seeing a well-kept dwelling or barn at the top of a hill.  You can hear them now –  “cover the kids eyes dear, there’s a house over there!  Of all the nerve!”

“This ordinance is like the Gorge Act on steroids,” said Hunnicutt.  “Telling a property owner that they can’t build a house on their property, and telling a farmer that they can’t build a barn because it’s ugly is at the top of government overregulation.”

At present, the ordinance is before the Umatilla County Planning Commission.  Fortunately, the sponsors of the ordinance have had a difficult time crafting the ordinance in a coherent manner, leaving a muddled mess that changes every time the Planning Commission meets.

Whether the ordinance is ever taken seriously by the Umatilla County Commission is up in the air.  But OIA is ready for a legal fight.  “If the ordinance is ever adopted, we will appeal,” said Hunnicutt.

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