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Trail Wars Escalate in Yamhill County
The deep state is seen circling the wagons

In an ongoing saga, the failed development of the Yamhelas-Westsider bike and pedestrian trail in Yamhill county has taken a political turn. A series of public records requests have revealed what both elected and non-elected officials have done to manipulate public opinion and sabotage the legal process in attempting to build a bike path at public expense through Exclusive Farm Use zoning without a Conditional Use Permit.

Over the course of the project, the State Land Use Board of Appeals has ruled five out of five times that this was an illegal action. They even awarded attorney’s fees on the fifth and final defeat handed the County. Feeling they can ignore the law, Friends of Yamhelas Westsider Trail, actively working with elected and non-elected County officials have continued to attempt to spend public dollars in a quest for a bike path.

A professionally written, misleading article by freelance writer Leah Sotille -- more a hit piece, than actual reporting -- appeared in Colorado-headquartered High Country Magazine highly critical of Commissioner Berschauer’s role in presiding over the last days of the trail. The problem with the article was all the pertinent facts were left out to mislead the reader.

A new player has emerged in the person of Phillip Higgins, a real estate broker from Newberg. Recent public records show that prior to February 3, 2021, he contacted a leftist freelance journalist named Leah Sotille to write a hit piece on County Commissioner Lindsay Berschauer. Her crime? She’s favorable to Timber Unity, an Oregon-based natural resource and agricultural activist group.

Sottile emailed back to Higgins stating she knew little about the Trail controversy and asked him for information. Higgins emailed Sottile to engage her on the project. In a later email, Higgins told Sottile that the best source of information on the Trail was Carrie Martin, Grants Administrator. Higgins became part of the Trail group as an addition to emails, also obtained by FOIA, as early as 11/23/20. He was one of a group led by Commissioner Casey Kulla plotting to move a County leased property away from a private party to gain control of what they hoped would be a Trailhead.

The plot was thwarted through legal means. County Grants Administrator Carrie Martin had the idea “floated by” her in that email. Separately, Martin was caught speaking out of both sides of her mouth about timelines to complete a Trail bridge being built illegally with ODOT grant money.

In an email to ODOT on June 17, 2020 she stated it would be 15 days to completion. That was in response to an email concerning a Oregon Department of Justice finding that the County was in breach of the terms of the grant, the basis for termination. The Oregon Department of Justice and the Oregon Department of Transportation killed the Trail, but Martin was apparently trying to save it.

In another email to Commissioner Berschauer dated February 3, 2021, Martin stated it was 10 days to completion, but on that same day, she was in possession of a letter from the contractor, Farline, stating they were 70 days from completion. It was time for the Trail proponents, which includes County officials, to circle the wagons around Carrie Martin.

Back to Phillip Higgins. In a January 19, 2021 email to carriemartinconsulting and others he suggested a “strategy session” about “real honest war”. Higgins also suggested campaign ideas to use against the Commissioners who opposed the trail.

Commissioner Kulla stoked the fire stating that the use of publicly requested emails -- inferring it was the Carrie Martin emails -- was harassment. Apparently it’s just not fair to know what County officials are plotting to do with your tax dollars. The plan to beat up on Berschauer was hatched. She knew too much and had to be silenced. The High Country piece was heavy on details of Berschauer’s private life but totally lacking in substantive matters leading to the Trail’s demise through the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.

Knowing that the author confessed to little knowledge of the Trail controversy and that she was told Carrie Martin was the best source of information on the subject it is quite possible that Martin is the one working hardest to circle the wagons around herself. Her consulting business works with firms who are vendors contracting to Yamhill County on projects involving grant money. She has more to lose than just her job. County Counsel Todd Sadlo is under investigation by the Oregon Bar for his role in advising the County to continue spending grant money on a project deemed illegal as long ago as three years. He too has more to lose than just his job. Both are potentially liable personally for violating ORS 294.100 regarding wanton and willful wasting of public funds.


--Tom Hammer

Post Date: 2021-07-15 20:49:34Last Update: 2021-07-15 21:20:38



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