Morrow County wants to ‘walk back’ depot land vote

HEPPNER – Morrow County Commissioner Jim Doherty says he and Chairwoman Melissa Lindsay are working to “walk back” the unanticipated motion and vote by the Columbia Development Authority Board of Directors to turn over industrial land to the Port of Morrow and the Port of Umatilla. Morrow County Commissioner Don Russell allowed the resolution and voted in favor of it at that meeting, but he did so without first discussing it with the other two commissioners.

“It was suggested that Morrow County was on board, and this could be nothing further from the truth,” Doherty said in an exclusive interview with KUMA News today (Friday). “This was a commissioner that, for whatever reason, went rather rogue or certainly didn’t do the proper thing by shutting down the meeting and shutting down the motion.”

Earlier, Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock says the board was considering legal action to force the resolution to be voided. Doherty is convinced it should not become a legal issue.

“Certainly, this is the biggest vote they (the CDA) have ever taken,” Doherty said. “He (Russell) should have said, ‘Let me go back and vet this with my board.’ We’re working pretty hard behind the scenes to knit this back together.”

Doherty said that Russell should have quashed the proposed resolution since it was not on the agenda.

“It’s really unfortunate that he didn’t step forward while he had the gavel in his hand and said we can’t move something forward that’s not on the agenda,” Doherty said. “We’ve told him many times in the past that anything of any significance has to be vetted with the board. I certainly think in hindsight he would have done things differently.”

Doherty added that approval of the resolution is not the county’s position.

“We’re uncertain what the county’s position is and it put our port in a terrible bind too,” he said.

That isn’t the only thing that concerns Doherty.

“It threatens to set back the relations with Umatilla County,” he said. “Commissioner (Bill) Elfering has been a mentor, as has Commissioner Murdock.”

Doherty says the Morrow County Board of Commissioners is in discussions with the Port of Morrow now to try and walk back the decision and bring it forward in the future in what he terms a “more collaborative form, so that we don’t undo 30 years’ worth of work.”

Doherty says Lindsay is having discussions with the Port of Morrow, and he is working to open up talks with Umatilla County.

“I think the sooner we open up the conversation here and get away from suggestions of litigation, to clear up this challenge, I certainly think the two counties can get together and we can walk this back sooner rather than later” he said. “We can walk it back in a big hurry, because I think the stance of Morrow County is not dissimilar to Umatilla County.”

Morrow County Commissioner Jim Doherty