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County will bargain, not seize land.

Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard

You don't bring your sledgehammer to a delicate negotiation, Lane County Commissioner Bobby Green said.

Using that reasoning, Green and a majority on the county board voted Wednesday not to use their sledgehammer - the power to seize land - in negotiations to buy from Wildish Land Co. 1,200 acres southeast of Eugene-Springfield.

But that decision also means the county can't use condemnation to - as one commissioner put it last year - ensure a fair price for the land.

Wildish wants $26 million for the parcel by Mount Pisgah, and the board on Wednesday designated the Oregon chapter of The Nature Conservancy to be chief negotiator on behalf of county efforts to buy the land and convert it into a park.

The conservancy will appraise the land, negotiate with the Eugene gravel company and round up the local, state and federal dollars to make an offer. The county, which is in fiscal crisis due to a possible loss of federal timber aid, doesn't have money to help with the purchase, chairman Faye Stewart said.

The land lies next to the county's Howard Buford Recreation Area.

Wildish had asked the county to promise not to use condemnation.

In condemnation, a government agency takes ownership of a property and a court determines the fair price after hearing arguments from both sides.

In 4-1 votes, with Commissioner Peter Sorenson dissenting, the board vowed not to condemn the property while purchase negotiations continue, and to continue to process "in a timely manner" any land use applications from Wildish that seek to designate land elsewhere in Lane County for gravel mining.

Officials said the county could have used the threat to force Wildish to accept an unfairly low offer for the land. But Commissioner Bill Dwyer noted wryly that given the county's fiscal problems, the county probably doesn't have the money to use condemnation in this case.

Dwyer voted with the majority to relinquish condemnation power, despite saying last year that condemnation was one way to ensure a fair negotiation with Wildish.

The county has approved Wildish's Measure 37 claim on the land, waiving development restrictions there that limited the land's use. With the Measure 37 claim approved, Wildish has said it could develop a huge housing subdivision on the property, but would prefer to sell the land to the public for $26 million.

County negotiators have said the price is fair. But land use advocates have said the company's figure is flawed.

Dwyer said last year that the county hadn't lost leverage despite granting the right to develop the land, because the county's condemnation power means "the government has the last say in this thing."

But he voted Wednesday to give up that power, saying both sides must deal "in good faith."

County Administrator Bill Van Vactor said the board's decision to continue processing the company's rezoning applications in a timely manner won't bind the county to giving special treatment to Wildish should the company seek to turn farmland into gravel pits elsewhere in the county.

But Sorenson objected, asking, "Why single out one company (as) entitled to a timely process, but not others? Why imply we haven't been timely, when we have, for any of the sand and gravel companies?"

Randy Hledik, Wildish's general services director, said the word "timely" is subjective and the language has no legal bearing on how the county would process the company's rezoning applications.

Rezoning of land to open it to mining can be contentious, Hledik said. Of the 1,200 Wildish acres up for sale, about 600 are designated for sand and gravel mining, and Wildish has mined them for years.

Wildish simply wanted the county to recognize that the company will want to replace those acres, Hledik added.

"We understand that they can't be giving us any kind of prior approval - we're not asking to shortcut the approval process in any way," Hledik said. "We're not asking them for anything more than to realize a significant part of the sand and gravel inventory will be removed ... and we need to replace it."
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Title Annotation:Government; The Nature Conservancy will be the negotiator for Wildish land by Buford park
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 24, 2007
Words:679
Previous Article:Envelopes open to reveal many answers.
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