The contentious G&N timber exchange comes back before the Clatsop County commissioners Wednesday. But the board is scheduled to consider only a minor tweaking of the agreement designed to allow the land-and-timber swap to proceed.

The commissioners are scheduled to act on the trade at their regular meeting beginning at 6 p.m. in the county courthouse.

Last August a state hearings officer ruled that the Oregon Department of Forestry violated one of its rules in approving a land trade with Nygaard Logging Company and several other private landowners.

The trade, involving about 700 acres of land in several parcels around Clatsop County, was approved by the county last year, but was appealed by a group of local opponents.

Administrative law judge Maurice Russell rejected all the opponents' other 10 points but found that the trade included a cash payment that is larger than allowed.

Under the original agreement the state wants to trade a total of 296 acres worth $1,259,500 in exchange for 407 acres worth $999,500 from the private owners. To make up the difference in values, the private group was to pay the state $260,500 in cash. But state rules governing land exchanges say such payments can't total more than 25 percent of the value of the land acquired unless there are "extraordinary circumstances" driving the swap.

Russell ruled that the state failed to show any "extraordinary circumstances," but wrote that because the cash payment exceeded the 25-percent rule by only 1 percent, the equivalent of about one and a half acres of timber, "it would therefore require a very slight adjustment in the terms of the exchange to permit it to go forward."

Following the hearings officer's ruling, Bill Lecture, assistant forester in the Astoria District, said the agency was considering setting up a two-acre timber reserve on one of the parcels to equalize the trade and bring the cash payment within the 25-percent limit.

To that end, the county is being asked to modify its original resolution from August 2002 and change the wording to allow a combination of cash and timber reservation to make up the difference in value between the state land and private land.

County Counsel Heather Reynolds determined that the county commissioners do not need to hold another public hearing on the proposed changes.

The trade opponents - Pam Birmingham, Carolyn Eady and Bhagwati Poddar, who appealed the state board of forestry's approval - objected to the deal on several grounds, claiming that the exchange traded away threatened and endangered species habitat, protected watersheds, biodiversity and recreational trails, and that it did not include proper public review. Russell ruled that the trade was in compliance with state rules on those issues.

Eady said Monday she planned to ask the board to reconsider the entire trade, which she and the other opponents claim provides a much better deal for the private landowners. Two new members, Lylla Gaebel and Helen Westbrook, have joined the board since the commissioners approved the deal last year.

"The 25-percent limit was to prevent timber sales," she said. "No one has explained how this is not a timber sale."

Birmingham reminded the commission that the county could be liable for claims under the federal and state endangered species acts if the deal results in a loss of habitat for protected speciessuch as spotted owls and marbeled murrelets.


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