Road Warrior

The proposal from Umatilla County is to widen Airport Road to 66 feet to accommodate increased traffic flows. The project could call for the relocation of utility poles and the removal of trees from property along the road.

HERMISTON — Residents of East Airport Road are petitioning Umatilla County to vacate a portion of the road’s right-of-way.

The county is planning a $1.2 million rebuild of the road leading to the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center, adding an extra lane and other improvements that would better handle traffic during the Umatilla County Fair and other high-volume events.

The plan would impact 13 feet of county-owned right of way along the south side of the road that neighbors had previously believed was part of their property, based on a decades-old “witness corner” that was recently discovered to be off from true property lines. County commissioners and staff have met with the neighbors to offer remedies, such as granting conditional use licenses, but the petition’s signers are asking that the county give them the land outright.

“I think we came up with a good solution, within the confines of the law, something the county can do,” said Chris Waine, who emailed a copy of the completed application to the county Wednesday afternoon.

Waine, the president of the Hermiston Airport Road Neighborhood Association, is one of those affected. If the county builds the road’s shoulders and swales as wide as planned, he said, he would likely have to move his septic system. Umatilla Electric Cooperative would have to move relatively new power poles and other neighbors could lose trees.

He said the county is following the Oregon Department of Transportation’s standards for widths on features, such as the road’s shoulders, but state statute allows counties to set their own standards instead. He hopes the county will consider adopting its own standards for road construction in order to create a narrower project that doesn’t need the additional 13 feet.

The area around East Airport Road is a patchwork of property within Hermiston city limits and unincorporated parts of Umatilla County. The application only asks for a vacation of the portions of the right-of-way that abut county properties, which Waine said makes the request a bit “chopped up” but allowed him to get the needed signatures.

“We’re essentially this island of county within the urban growth boundary,” he said.

According to state statute, at least 60% of property owners along the proposed vacation would need to sign the petition asking the county to vacate the road. Waine said the county originally said he didn’t have enough signatures, but he successfully argued that each individual person on the property deeds should be counted as a property owner. He was able to collect signatures from 22 of the 27 affected property owners.

County counsel Doug Olsen said the request would be forwarded to the Board of Commissioners, which will decide what action, if any, to take.

Waine said he appreciated that Olsen, along with Matt Kenny from the surveyor’s office, have been helpful and fair to him during the process despite ongoing clashes he has had with the county and city of Hermiston regarding EOTEC. The county even waived the $500 application fee.

“That was a gesture of good faith, so we appreciate that,” he said.

He said if the county declines the request to vacate the right-of-way, he plans to pursue an appeal.

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