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Initiative process is there for 'We the People'

Something quietly significant happened in our county last week. The Spotlight reported the details, but the people of Columbia County might want to hear more about it from an inside perspective.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Nancy Ward The significant event I am referring to is the Sustainable Energy Future initiative filed by Columbia County Sustainable Action for Green Energy, or CC SAGE, in January. Last week the initiative was cleared for petitioning.

You see, after we filed the initiative and the county approved it, a legal challenge was brought by a major corporate law firm. This corporate legal challenge was intended to frustrate our grassroots community group into giving up. It was apparent our challenge had attracted a big gun that was hired to silence us.

We have since discovered this same law firm has filed a challenge to a sister community rights group in Douglas County that is fighting the establishment of a liquefied natural gas pipeline.

Our subsequent victory required two separate court appearances before rulings by Columbia Circuit Judge Ted Grove cleared the way to move forward as originally approved by the county.

Please keep in mind that moving forward at this point is merely to begin gathering the necessary signatures to qualify the ordinance for the ballot. The Right to a Sustainable Energy Future ordinance would, if passed, secure the right of the people of Columbia County, not corporations, to be the decision-makers about its energy future.

More often than not, the general public — everyday people like you and me — choose to abide by legislation and agreements handed down by elected officials, often at the behest of corporate interests. We often hesitate to challenge the fundamental question about who decides what happens in our community. Much like sailors, we are told which direction the ship will be heading and we trim our sails accordingly.

But the initiative process is there for us. It is the tool whereby citizens may take the helm and propose the discussions we the people want to have. Of course, when this happens it provokes a hurricane in the vicinity of both politics-as-usual and corporate entitlement — rocking the boat is always discouraged.

We are a group of county residents resolved to affect change in our current local decision-making process. Assisted by CELDF (Community Environmental League Defense Fund), we spent a year crafting this proposal to submit to the people of Columbia County in the form of an ordinance. It was a slow, but rewarding process, learning how to turn a wish for the future into a legal document.

Grove’s findings — the first in July and the second a week ago — confirmed the right of citizens to affect their future. To find otherwise would have set a negative precedent, influencing all future initiatives in our state.

Thank you, CELDF, for showing us how to participate. And, thank you, Ann Kneeland, for representing us and being the most well-prepared lawyer ever.

Our petition will be coming to a street corner near you soon. If you believe in the right of “We the People” to vote on our future, you will want to sign.

Nancy Ward resides in Scappoose. She is an officer for both CC SAGE and Clean Columbia County, as well as a board member of the Oregon Community Rights Network.

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