A $1.4 billion breach of contract lawsuit brought against the Oregon Department of Forestry by Linn County and 100 other taxing districts is heading to a mediation session in June.
The decision was reached during a May 3 settlement conference before Linn County Circuit Court Judge David Delsman.
Present were Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist; John DiLorenzo, the attorney for the class action plaintiffs; Aaron Stuckey and Greg Chaimov and Scott Kaplan of the state Department of Justice, State Forester Peter Doherty, Deputy State Forester Liz Dent and several Department of Forestry policy analysts.
Dilorenzo gave a 30-minute presentation in court analyzing the class action case's strengths and the plaintiffs’ willingness to work out a settlement.
Kaplan talked about the state’s defenses and appellate opportunities.
Those present broke into two groups and Judge Delsman met with each group several times. He called everyone back into open court and outlined the following procedures:
• Each side is to propose three mediators to the other by May 13.
• The parties are to choose two mediators from the group of 6 by May 17.
• The parties will enter into standard form mediation agreements with the mediators and among one another.
• The mediators will conduct one or two preliminary joint sessions prior to exchange of offers.
• Plaintiffs will propose an offer to settle the case by June 10.
• The state will propose a counteroffer by June 17.
• The mediators will conduct further sessions as necessary to discuss the offers and determine whether a settlement to possible.
Linn County and 100 other taxing districts that receive annual payments from timber sales from state forest lands contend that the Oregon Department of Forestry hasn't lived up to its contracts with those counties and districts dating back to the 1930s and 1940s. The state, they say, has reduced timber harvests while placing greater emphasis on water quality, fish survival and recreational issues.
But the districts say that the state's actions amount to a breach of contract and that greatest permanent value — in this case, revenue from timber sales.