With the stroke of a computer key, more than 18,000 acres that have long been considered wetlands in east Linn County are no more.
Oh, the 1,000 tax lots are still there, but their wetlands designation has vanished, according to Steve Barnett, director of Linn County Geographic Information System.
The properties amount to about one-third of the designated wetlands in the county.
Barnett said all cities and counties are required to have wetland inventories that are used by planning and building Departments to determine whether buildings, barns and other structures can be developed on properties.
“We use the federal wetlands delineation for the National Wetlands Inventory, which is developed through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Barnett said. “I check that information annually.”
The issue, Barnett explained, is that the information used to determine whether or not a site is a wetland has been based on old aerial photographs, sometimes dating back to 1982. Barnett said the local properties were likely considered wetlands because the old photos showed what looked like small rivers or streams that were, or had been, in the area.
“They are now using an updated system from the U.S. Geological Service and what it shows is that these weren’t wetlands to begin with,” Barnett said. “Basically, the whole eastern half of the county, from Lyons, down through Sweet Home, are affected.”
The new designation is important because it relieves the burden of a property owner of having to hire a specialist to prove the property is not in a wetlands if they wish to develop it in any way, Barnett said.
“This has the potential to save property owners time and money,” Barnett said.
Barnett said the new data will have to be adopted into county code sometime this fall.
Barnett said the Fish and Wildlife Service does not know Linn County bases its wetlands map on its data, so the county was not notified of the changes.
“We just make it a policy to check every fall,” Barnett said. “But, property owners should also check with the state, because they may still have to prove it to the state.”
Roger Nyquist, chairman of the Linn County Board of Commissioners, said the new information is welcome.
“We are grateful for their change in analysis,” Nyquist said. “We have maintained for years that the facts on the ground didn’t square with their interpretation. While this is something to be happy about, there is still the Division of State Lands approach that has to be dealt with.”
Lebanon city manager said in an email to the Lebanon Express responding to the news of the change, that it appears to have little effect on the city of Lebanon.
"I’m not sure at this point, but it appears the County’s action will not change wetland designations in Lebanon," Marks said. "First, it looks like all the changes were made for property in Sweet Home and east of Sweet Home. If the map is correct no changes were made in Lebanon."
Also, it's unclear what impact the updated federal National Wetlands Inventory will have on wetland designations as recognized by the Oregon Department of State Lands, Marks said. The maps recognized by DSL govern much of what happens to wetlands in Lebanon.