County deems section of Pine Cr. Rd. as public

Aug. 17—The Baker County Board of Commissioners voted 3-0 on Wednesday morning, Aug. 17, to approve a resolution designating a section of Pine Creek Road, which is the subject of two current civil lawsuits, as a county road open to the public.

Commissioners approved the resolution after a brief public hearing at the Courthouse.

There was applause and cheering from the audience of about 20, which included several people who live in the Pine Creek area.

Some of those residents urged commissioners, during an April 19 public hearing, to take action to ensure the public can travel the road.

The resolution states, in part, that "all private gates, structures, and obstructions" on the section of road surveyed last year "are hereby ordered to be removed."

Commissioner Mark Bennett emphasized that although commissioners' vote was "certainly a step forward," the process under state law includes a 60-day appeal period.

Bennett said he wants residents to understand that the gate that property owner David McCarty installed in 2020 won't be unlocked or removed immediately, and he cautioned people to avoid taking any action on their own.

Bennett said he didn't want to downplay the significance of commissioners' action, however. He noted that they were spurred by residents who have had access to the road for many decades.

"I think that this is based on extensive public input," Bennett said. "We've had numerous public hearings with opportunities for the public and for Mr. McCarty to make comments and to submit testimony, information, documents, and also research."

Process started more than a year agoWednesday's vote culminates a process commissioners started in June 2021, when they passed a resolution "declaring the necessity for the legalization of Pine Creek Lane."

The resolution deals with the section of road that starts at the eastern edge of McCarty's property and ends at the junction with another road leading to the Baisley Elkhorn mine. The resolution also covers a section of the Baisley Elkhorn mine road.

The Pine Creek Road itself continues another 2 miles or so beyond the junction, leading to Pine Creek Reservoir, which is on national forest land, and beyond.

The county's road legalization process was prompted by a lawsuit that David McCarty, who owns a 1,560-acre property through which the road runs for about 2 1/2 miles, filed against the county on April 30, 2021.

McCarty is asking for either a declaration that the disputed section of the Pine Creek Road crossing his property is not a public right-of-way, or, if a jury concludes there is legal public access, that the limits of that access be defined and that the county pay him $730,000 to compensate for the lost value of the land based on the legal public access and for other costs he has incurred as a result of the county's actions.

He bought the land in September 2020, and not long after he installed a gate that has at times been locked.

Joelleen Linstrom, who lives with McCarty, has said previously that McCarty didn't object to people walking along the road, but that he was concerned about people in vehicles posing a potential fire danger.

Linstrom repeated that concern during Wednesday's meeting, saying she had "observed a lot of people being careless during fire season."

Cindy Birko, who lives near Pine Creek, told commissioners on Wednesday that she believes the fire risk is lower when the road is open and more people are using it, and thus in the area to potentially see and report smoke.

"I do not view that as a liability, but I see that as an asset to protect us all," Birko said.

Tom Lager, who owns property that is surrounded by McCarty's land, echoed Birko's thoughts.

Lager and his wife, Betty Ann, are the plaintiffs, along with James and Sharen Sanders, in a recently filed lawsuit naming McCarty and Linstrom as defendants.

The Lagers and Sanderses are each seeking monetary damages of at least $250,000, claiming McCarty's installation of the gate has deprived them of access to and enjoyment of their properties.

Both that lawsuit, and the suit McCarty filed against the county in April 2021, are pending.

After county commissioners passed a resolution in June 2021 to start the process, under Oregon law, of declaring the section of Pine Creek Road as a public right-of-way, McCarty's attorney sought a temporary restraining order prohibiting the county from pursuing that avenue, including having the road surveyed.

A judge granted that restraining order in July 2021, but in November of that year another judge dissolved the order and ruled that the county could survey portions of McCarty's property that the Pine Creek Road crosses.

Richard Stein, a surveyor from Anderson-Perry of La Grande, told commissioners Wednesday that the road today follows a different route than the road shown in an 1891 county record describing a survey of a road along Pine Creek.

Linstrom has said in the past that the title report McCarty received while his purchase of the property was pending does not show a public road or list any public easement through the