In May 2017 in Lincoln County, voters adopted the Freedom from Aerial Sprayed Pesticides ordinance.
The first-in-the-state law recognizes residents’ rights to clean air, water and soil, their right to local community self-governance and the Rights of Nature to exist, flourish and evolve.
Soon after, timber industry interests sued the county to overturn the ordinance, arguing the county had no authority to pass it and that the law ‘adversely affected’ them.
The law stood for over two years, successfully preventing the aerial application of pesticides—a toxic but common practice of the local timber industry.
On Sept. 23, county circuit court Judge Sheryl Bachart upheld an existing dogma that limits the powers of local governments to those the state permits. The judge ruled that the pesticide ban exceeded the authority of Lincoln County because the Oregon Pesticide Control Act disallows local pesticide ordinances, rules, and regulations.
“Oregon does not recognize an independent right of local community self-government that is fundamental, inherent, inalienable and constitutional,” stated Judge Bachart.
Rio Davidson of Lincoln County Community Rights, the group behind the initiative, issued a statement in regards to the decision.
“In a choice between unconstitutional state law that protects corporate profits over the health and safety of communities, the judge chose to protect corporate profits,” Davidson said.
Petitioners are seeking state constitutional change to establish a right to self-government that empowers local communities to expand the state’s protections for civil, human and ecosystem rights—as the Lincoln County Freedom from Aerial Sprayed Pesticides seeks to do.
“Though this decision will be appealed on the grounds of denying the exercise of the right of local self-government, it also serves as positive energy to move the amendment forward so ultimately people, not corporations, decide the fate of their communities,” said Nancy Ward, coordinator for the Oregon Community Rights Network.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) assisted Lincoln County Community Rights in drafting the law and representing them as an intervenor in the case. CELDF also sought to represent the Siletz River watershed’s interests in the case. The judge denied intervention.
Appeals will be filed by Lincoln County Community Rights and the Siletz River watershed. It is not known if Lincoln County will appeal the decision.