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Cattle in Condon, records show

by: KATIE WILSON, SPOTLIGHT PHOTO - The Holdner cattle seized by the county in July 2012 were held at a pasture outside of St. Helens until late November 2012.Cattle seized by Columbia County from a Scappoose rancher accused of animal neglect are now in the care of The Nevis Company, which operates a ranch in Condon.

Previously, the county would not comment on where the cattle had been moved or what sort of condition they were in. But documents obtained by the Spotlight reveal the county had signed an agreement with The Nevis Company in November to transfer 161 of the animals to the company’s property and not make any public statement about these plans.

The company purchased the cattle “as is” from the county and the animals were moved over the Thanksgiving weekend.

A purchase and sale agreement between the county and the company stated the county would not be liable for any health issues or defects in the cattle since the cattle were “victims of neglect,” the document reads.

A one-paragraph statement handed to local newspapers in mid-November simply stated that the cattle had been moved to a “working ranch.”

But, in fact, the county had already sold the cattle to The Nevis Company in a sale agreement dated Nov. 9 and signed by County Commissioner Henry Heimuller and the company’s president Alfred Nevis.

Troubled transactions

This marks the second transaction The Nevis Company has entered into to obtain these same cattle.

The animals’ former owner, William Holdner, had sold the cattle to The Nevis Company in a sale agreement dated Aug. 17, following court orders in a water pollution case earlier this year to liquidate his cattle operations.

On July 26, however, the county and the Oregon Humane Society, alleging animal neglect by Holdner, seized 169 cows and the sale was never completed. Instead the county took custody of the herd.

At the time, Heimuller said the Oregon Humane Society, which had started the investigation into Holdner’s alleged animal neglect, was footing the bill for care of the animals. The final cost was estimated to be close to $100,000, according to OHS director Sharon Harmon, who confirmed her agency was covering the care expense for the cattle.

The county, however, also claimed a possessory chattle lien against Holdner and his partner Jane Baum for the cost of caring for the cattle after the county had seized them, despite OHS’ claims it was covering those costs.

Since the couple had not paid the amount the county demanded, the county issued a legal notice to announce it was foreclosing on them.

An auction was originally scheduled Dec. 3 and the asking price for the cattle was approximately $111,000, but the auction did not occur.

It is unclear whether the county had intended to use money gained from the foreclosure sale to help pay down OHS’ expense for caring for the cattle, though Heimuller had previously indicated that possibility.

A Nov. 5 legal agreement between Columbia County and The Nevis Company states the company still wanted the cattle but that the case going forward against Holdner had “put a cloud” over the rancher’s ability to give the company clear and free ownership.

The county, saying it did not want to interfere in the sale contract previously established between The Nevis Company and Holdner, proposed discussing a transfer of the cattle over to the company’s care.

In the Nov. 9 Purchase and Sale Agreement, The Nevis Company paid the county $72,218.64 as security for release of the herd.

If the county receives the title to the cattle by foreclosing on Holdner and Baum, the county agreed to pass the title on to The Nevis Company.

At this time, it is not clear if the foreclosure sale has gone forward.

Commissioner Heimuller and County Counsel Sarah Hanson have said they will not comment on the Holdner cattle. They would also not answer questions about claims Holdner has made that the herd’s health worsened under the county’s care.

They could not be reached for comment on this article.