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State Law vs. Natural Law

Springfield’s Seavey Loop plans draw ire

Along Seavey Loop Road winding all the way to Hwy. 58, “Stop Seavey Loop Industrial Zone” signs have cropped up over the past few weeks on almost every property. The two-lane blacktop runs through floodplain rich in farmland and natural areas nurtured by the Coast Fork of the Willamette River and Oxley Slough and overseen by Mount Pisgah rising gently in the east. The signs are an expression of solid resistance in a neighborhood unified in its opposition to the Springfield City Council’s decision to sweep part of the Seavey Loop area into its urban growth boundary (UGB) overflow and open it up to industrial development.

On Aug. 6, in the shade of one of Buford-Mount Pisgah’s large white oaks, neighbors and other concerned citizens met with State Rep. Phil Barnhart and State Sen. Lee Beyer to put their passionate and often eloquent voices behind the signage. Chief organizer Charles Stewart, a Seavey organic farmer, began with an announcement that the Straub family, relatives of the former governor and owners of 56 acres of Seavey Loop land critical to Springfield’s UGB proposal, have abandoned their neutrality and joined neighbors in the fight against expansion and industrialization.

A dozen speakers highlighted the deep-rooted cultural history of the area, the callousness and absurdity of imposing industry on its fragile ecology, the impact of industrial pollution on the land, the lives and the living of local farmers and residents, and its place in the joint city-county scheme to urbanize and industrialize the I-5 corridor from Springfield through the Lane Community College basin to Goshen. Planners refer to the proposed industrial area as College View.

In response, the guests of honor paid lip service to the beauty and fertility of the surrounds without, however, recognizing the importance of the area’s farms and farmers to the local economy and to food security now and in a future plagued by population and development pressures and depleted resources. To the contrary, Barnhart insisted that “Oregon is an industrial state” and that the economy needs and will have industry, implying that industrialization of the gateway to Pisgah is both desirable and inevitable.

Both legislators encouraged the audience to voice their concerns at upcoming city and county sessions on UGB expansion. But they know the system is rigged against equitable and meaningful participation by the legislative requirement that local jurisdictions provide a 20-year supply of buildable lands, a toxic recipe for exponential growth well beyond its pull date.

Given the unwillingness to address population control, land-use protections weakened or eliminated by development interests and complicit administrators and politicians and the inevitable environmental and social degradation as a consequence, the expansion of urban growth boundaries is axiomatic. 

The common corollary, “It’s a state law; we have no choice,” justifies every invasion — as if the 40-year-old buildable lands mandate, established in a bygone era, were an edict from God and immutable. To eliminate this requirement, as anachronistic and destructive as the General Mining Law of 1872, is both a choice and an obligation.

Expanding to meet state law, Springfield runs into natural law: Any direction it chooses to expand is already occupied by wetlands, rivers and streams, farmland, forestland and mountain. Given these topographical limitations, it’s unfortunate that Barnhart and Beyer were not asked where the farms will grow and how the rivers will flow as UGBs expand into infinity.

In a bid to the farmers and sympathizers in the crowd, Beyer properly praised Hector McPherson, a farmer, as the progenitor of SB 100, but in the same breath chose to damn Tom McCall as a mere opportunist given the credit due to McPherson and Bob Straub. Beyer should be counseled that without McCall’s passionate and articulate commitment to comprehensive, regulated land-use protections and his tireless public advocacy — qualities conspicuously absent in every state legislator and governor since — Oregon’s nationally recognized land-use program would likely have died an early death, or never been born.

Early in the session, someone asked if there were any Springfield city councilors, planners or Lane County commissioners present. We looked around but couldn’t find any.