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County denies timber companies' road vacation request

Vernonia residents breathed a sigh of relief after the Columbia County Board of Commissioners denied a request from timber companies to vacate a road in the Vernonia area.

Forestree GM LLC and Timberlands LLC petitioned the county to vacate a county road commonly known as Burn County Road. The timber companies own a portion of the road, but the county holds an easement, allowing public access to the road and, when the timber companies have allowed it, hunting and recreational access to the timber land. The county has not maintained the road.

Commissioner Tony Hyde said, while he does not agree with any "demonizing" of timber companies, the possibility for future trail building and other uses at the road, coupled with the public testimony, were enough to convince him the county should not give up its easement.

"I would hope the timber companies understand this is not in the best interest of the public," he said.

While there are no residences on the portion of Burn Road the timber companies wanted the county to vacate, people who lived nearby worried about the effect the vacation could have on their homes.

Debbie Fish, who lives with her husband right at the bottom of the timber-owned portion of the road, said the timber companies planned to erect a gate at that part of the road to restrict access. The gate would have been less than 200 yards from their house, Larry Fish said. It is difficult to see the Fish house from the road and there have been close calls with hunters in the past, he said.

The couple feared a gate would push hunters and litterers even closer to their home.

"(The timber companies) will take their problems out of their backyard and stick it in our front yard," Debbie Fish told the commissioners during a public hearing May 29. "… Our driveway will be the turnaround. Our property will be at huge risk."

"It might only be an easement, but its ours," said Vernonia resident Dale Webb, echoing other comments that if the county gives up the easement, it will likely be difficult to get it back,

"We firmly believe that if it's not good for our neighbor, it's not good for us," Debbie Fish said, adding she hoped that's how the timber companies would also look at the issue.

To her relief, that's how the county commissioners viewed it.

The meeting room was filled with people, packed knee to chair back. The majority testified in opposition to the vacation. Though the County Road Department had recommended approving the vacation, the commissioners said they had to consider whether or not the vacation would negatively impact the public.