Umatilla County Sues Columbia Development Authority Over Vote

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Umatilla County has filed a lawsuit against the Columbia Development Authority seeking at least $1 million for breach of contract.

The law firm Best Best & Krieger LLP, of Bend, filed the complaint Tuesday, July 2, in Umatilla County Circuit Court. The suit also names Morrow County and the ports of Umatilla and Morrow as defendants.

The CDA is the intergovernmental organization overseeing development of the former Umatilla Chemical Depot near Hermiston. The CDA Board consists of one representative each from Morrow County, Umatilla County, the Port of Morrow, the Port of Umatilla and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

The lawsuit stems from the CDA Board’s action at its meeting March 26, when the representatives for Morrow County and the two ports voted to transfer thousands of acres in industrial and exclusive farm use zones to the control of the ports.

Umatilla County and the tribes voted against the transfer.

Umatilla County Commissioner John Shafer sits on the CDA Board and has called the 3-2 vote illegal because there was not proper written notice of the proposal. The county’s lawsuit makes the same claim, alleging “without providing prior written notice of the proposed action to all members of the Board,” the vote breached the intergovernmental agreement that created the Columbia Development Authority.

“The damages from the transfer of the only commercially viable tracts of Depot Property outside the CDA without a reasonable and prudent Depot Property Transition Program in place are currently difficult, if not impossible, to adequately assess in terms of just monetary damages,” the lawsuit asserts. “… Only injunctive relief can adequately remedy the harm from CDA’s planned improper transfer of the Requested Property because the Depot Property that is the subject of this action is in danger of being lost or materially injured or impaired.”

That injunction would “rescind the improper vote of March 26” and find “the vote and any resultant transfers of Depot Property are invalid.”

Shafer has asked Kim Puzey, the general manager of the Port of Umatilla and CDA Board chair, to hold a vote to rescind the March vote, but Puzey has refused the request.

The lawsuit also asks the court to appoint a receiver over the CDA “to prevent the Depot Property from being lost or materially injured or impaired.”

State court records also show Umatilla County has yet to serve the defendants with copies of the lawsuit.

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