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I attended a Benton County Planning Commission meeting on Jan. 8 concerning another issue and found that Stahlbush Farms was requesting a variance to build a storage building next to railroad property so in the future it could easily load stored agricultural products onto railcars.

The attorney for the farm, George Heilig, began by quoting Mark Twain about “common sense” and that use of common sense would make it easy to grant the variance. Well, “common sense” soon departed.

Heilig pointed out that the purpose of the setback was to prevent conflict with the adjacent landowner (in this case the railroad) and that the railroad had written a letter in support of the variance. Then he noted that part of the county’s comprehensive plan was to promote railroad freight to get traffic off the county roads – but all was to no avail. The commission again denied the request basically saying that they had to support the staff and they didn’t want to set a bad precedent. The code is the code.

The commission needs to read section 50.015 of the comprehensive plan, which states: “When the interpretation of a particular Development Code provision is in doubt, the Comprehensive Plan shall be referred to for policy guidance.” This plan also states in section 12.4.2 that “Benton County shall promote the use of freight rail and air service to reduce trucking activity on County roads.”

The commission “has” set a precedent — shippers in Benton County cannot reasonably build next to railroad tracks to ship goods.

John Wood

Philomath (Jan. 9)

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