The governing board of the Sunset Empire Transit District voted 5-2 in January to opt out of a timber lawsuit brought by Linn County against the state.
The transit district was not included in a list of entities opting out, filed last month by Linn County’s lawyers. Mary Parker, the transit district’s executive director, sent a press release on the board’s decision.
Commissioners Kathy Kleczek, Carol Gearin, Lylla Gaebel, Tracy MacDonald and Pamela Alegria voted to opt out. Commissioners Jim Servino and Kevin Widener opted to stay in.
“It was a long process,” Kleczek, chairwoman of the transit district, said. “We didn’t just jump to any conclusions.”
The board discussed the lawsuit by phone with attorneys representing Linn County, and heard from representatives with the state Forestry Department about timber management.
At the meeting in January before their votes, commissioners Gearin, Alegria and Gaebel shared their concerns over the potential effects of the lawsuit in timber policies, the forest and watersheds. Servino and Widener cited their fiduciary responsibilities to the district in not turning down potential revenue. Kleczek said a majority of the transit district’s constituents supported leaving the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims the state violated a contract to maximize sustainable timber harvests on state land since changing management priorities in 1998 to include more recreation and conservation efforts. It was certified a class action, growing to include more than 15 counties and around 130 taxing districts.
The counties and taxing districts, each of which stands to gain a sizable settlement if the lawsuit is successful, had until Jan. 25 to notify Linn County Circuit Court of the intent to opt out as plaintiffs. Most took no action, remaining as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Clatsop County was the only timber county to opt out of the lawsuit, taking with it four county-controlled taxing districts. Sunset Empire Transportation District joins Sunset Empire Parks and Recreation District as the only other local county taxing districts to opt out.
Clatsop Community College’s Board voted to opt out Jan. 24. But one board member’s vote, submitted via email, was deemed invalid, resulting in a 3-3 tie and the college remaining in the lawsuit. The college has sent a letter to the Linn County Circuit Court in an effort to leave the lawsuit.
The Port of Portland, Benton Soil and Water Conservation District, Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District and Washington County Rural Fire Protection District No. 2. also opted out.