State, Linn County spar in court

ALBANY — State attorneys told a judge that Linn County shouldn't be allowed to represent other timber counties in a lawsuit that seeks $1.4 billion from Oregon because of its forest-management practices.

The county wants the case to proceed as a class action. Scott Kaplan, an attorney for the state, said during oral arguments Wednesday that would be impractical because there are different forest circumstances in each county, and managing the case as a class action would be "enormous."

The county filed the lawsuit earlier this year, asserting that insufficient logging had cost it and more than a dozen other counties over $1.4 billion. Litigation costs are being paid by timber groups and lumber companies, the Capital Press reports.

The complaint says the counties turned over ownership of forestlands to the state in the early 20th century with the expectation that timber revenues would be maximized. But a forest management plan adopted more than a decade ago emphasized improvements to fish and wildlife habitat and other conservation measures, which reduced logging and slashed timber revenue in half.

The state contends the forests are meant to be managed for the greatest permanent value, which includes factors beyond timber production.

Kaplan also told Linn County Judge Daniel Murphy the case doesn't qualify as a class action because of the lack of "commonality" among the counties, which donated their land to Oregon during different times and under specific terms, he said.

Chris McCracken, an attorney representing Linn County, rejected the argument, saying counties all face the same issue — that the state violated its contract to maximize timber revenue.

"We have common questions in droves," McCracken said.

McCracken said the Oregon Department of Forestry does not manage each parcel individually, but instead treats them according to regional forest plans. Moreover, deciding the counties' contractual rights collectively is more efficient than trying separate cases with potentially conflicting verdicts.

The judge said he expects to rule on the certification issue by Sept. 19, as well as on state motions to dismiss the case.

If class action status is granted, the other timber counties include Benton, Clackamas, Clatsop, Columbia, Coos, Douglas, Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Marion, Polk, Tillamook and Washington.

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