It has been more than two years since Lincoln County voters approved Ballot Measure 21-177, which called for a ban on the aerial spraying of pesticides anywhere in the county. It wasn’t exactly a resounding victory though — it won by only 61 votes, with 6,994 supporting the ban and 6,933 opposing it.
The election was scarcely over before the ballot measure was challenged in court. The judge hearing the case, Lincoln County Circuit Court Judge Sheryl Bachart, granted a preliminary injunction that put the spray ban on hold until a final decision was made.
Fast forward two years, and Bachart recently issued her findings in the case. In short, the court overturned the entire ordinance on the grounds that state law, specifically Oregon’s Pesticide Control Act, preempts adoption or enforcement of a local ordinance. Basically, the judge said the county cannot enact a local law that is contrary to state law.
Bachart also emphasized that her decision was based on questions of law and not of policy. In overturning the spray ban, “the court makes no choice among values or competing interests of the parties,” she wrote in her ruling.
Regardless of how you feel about whether or not aerial spraying should be banned, Ballot Measure 21-177 contained some language that gave us cause for concern, and our view about that has not changed in the last two years. It would have granted private citizens the ability to take “direct action” if they felt the ordinance wasn’t being upheld by local law enforcement or the courts. Further, it said people couldn’t be held civilly or criminally liable for their actions. That, we believe, would have opened Pandora’s box. Giving people the ability to take the law into their own hands without consequences opens the door to vigilantism. It’s just the wrong approach.
Although the judge has overturned the spray ban, the issue is very likely far from over. Lincoln County Community Rights, the organization that was the driving force behind the passage of Ballot Measure 21-177, has said it will appeal Bachart’s ruling. Dan Meek, attorney for Lincoln County Community Rights, said, “We look forward to pursuing the rights to local community self-government in the appellate courts of Oregon.”
Where that road will take us, and what the ultimate outcome will be, is anyone’s guess. But it seems to us that Bachart performed her due diligence and did what was required of her — basing her decision on the rule of law and not on the basis of policy, politics or emotion. That was what needed to happen, and we commend her for taking that task seriously and fully explaining how and why she arrived at the decision she did.
Anyone who wants to learn more about this issue can go to the county’s website, www.co.lincoln.or.us, and click on “Measure 21-177.” Information can also be found on the website for Lincoln County Community Rights at www.lincolncountycommunityrights.org.