In my last post for Our Land, I talked about the Oregon Beach Bill and how it safeguarded public access to all Oregon beaches 50 years ago. You’ll remember that many Oregonians worked together to get the Oregon Beach Bill passed. This Beach Bill work then sparked more people to get involved in coastal land use issues. But this involvement is not possible unless community members have the tools to get involved.
Crag is committed to ensuring that all community members have the ability to get involved with land use issues on the coast. We have been supporting coastal community members for eleven years through the Coastal Law Project, a partnership with Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition (Oregon Shores). This partnership gives coastal residents a resource they can use to address environmental concerns and challenge land use decisions if necessary.
If community members are troubled about development projects or plans to limit public beach access, they often come to Oregon Shores for help. They are then connected to staff attorney Courtney Johnson, who looks into the matter. Since 2008, she has worked on over 80 matters for the Coastal Law Project. Throughout this time, she has been dedicated to empowering communities in this land use process. She emphasizes that she is not just there to litigate cases: “We definitely do litigate cases, but I think we do a lot more than that.” In addition to litigation, Crag has provided training, information, and advice to coastal community members.
Crag regularly works with community members to help them better understand land use laws so that they can be effective advocates for their own communities. Courtney remarks that “there is a sense of lawyers sometimes having either all the answers or the key to this magical law kingdom,” but that an important part of Crag’s mission is to educate coastal leaders so that they too can understand the laws. By educating existing leaders, she empowers communities to raise their voices on the local level. This builds a public record to support later litigation if it becomes necessary.
The focus of the Coastal Law Project has been protecting beaches, rivers, estuaries, and public access along the shore on behalf of the community members who understand their value. Together, Oregon Shores and Crag have addressed threats ranging from gravel mining in streams to subdivision development around wetlands to rip rap along the coast to fossil fuel terminal development in estuaries.
Crag’s work has preserved some of the wildest and most remote sections of the coast through this partnership. In one important case, Oregon Shores and Crag stopped the 2003 planned development of a resort and golf course in Sand Lake Estuary, one of Oregon’s coastal gems and home to a diverse array of fish, bird, plant, and wild game species. In 2014, Sand Lake Estuary was acquired by the Oregon State Park system. Now its natural values and quiet recreation activities will be permanently protected in a state park, thanks in no small part to Crag’s work preventing development there.
In order to ensure the coast’s protection, Crag uses Oregon’s land use laws, which protect some areas as open spaces, wilderness, or habitat and direct development into other areas. Courtney emphasizes that her work does not fit with the economy vs. environment narrative prominent in the media: “our work is not so much anti-development as it is enforcing the laws that allow the public to have a say in how development proceeds.” Ultimately, her work is about enabling community members to participate in land use planning.
The Coastal Law Project has worked through the years to ensure that the balance between wild spaces and development matches up with ecological priorities and community values. Crag and Oregon Shores will continue to be available as a resource for coastal community members.
Check out the Coastal Law Project website for more information.
Elizabeth Allen is a rising junior at Duke University. She worked at Crag during the summer of 2017 as part of the DukeEngage program.