Cattle graze under the shade of alder, oak, and fir. Hawks soar overhead. It’s autumn in rural Clackamas County. It’s tranquil enough to be a park, but it’s a working family farm.
The Lay family has farmed these 100 acres of rolling hills in Clackamas County, near Susie Kunzman, for more than half a century. Over the decades, they have raised beef cattle, pigs, hay, wheat, and other grains. Today part of their land grows Christmas trees and they maintain the rest for cattle grazing. The farm’s owners are an elderly couple, 87-year-old Roy Lay and 86-year-old Lois.
Scott Lay, their grown son, remembers, “This was my playground as a kid. I had the whole Cascades as my backyard.”
Scott cannot work the farm himself because of a disability.
But his father, Roy, still makes a daily trip from his home in the small town of Molalla to do farm chores. Despite his age, Roy is still proud of the farm and won’t stop working to keep it up.
That worries Scott. The other day, he recalls, he discovered that his father had been alone on the property pulling stumps. Scott dreads receiving a phone call that his elderly father has collapsed on the property from overwork.
Now, both father and son realize the time has come to sell the farm. So the Lays put the property on the market. They received a good offer this summer, but it fell through when the buyer found out that the neighboring property had won a Measure 37 claim to operate a gravel mine, the same mine that borders Susie Kunzman’s property.
The neighboring property owners, Charles and Wanda Daugherty, filed a Measure 37 claim for their 80 acres, which is restricted from certain types of development. The county could not pay the claim, so it was forced to grant a waiver allowing the Daughertys to open a gravel mine.
Getting a decent offer for the farm now seems unlikely thanks to the spectre of a mine next door.
Scott says that the buyers “immediately pulled their offer” when they discovered that the farm borders a Measure 37 claim. Now the Lays have heard that the buyer bought land elsewhere in the area—and no new buyers have shown interest.
The situation frustrates Scott. He sees how his family’s wishes for the property—and even their well-being—are being thwarted by the law. He believes that Measure 37 is helping the Daughertys run roughshod over the Lays’ property rights.
The situation is putting stress on everyone. In rural communities like Molalla, neighbors have a history of supporting one another, says Scott. They count on each other to borrow tools and even tractors. So emotion runs raw when there’s a rift between neighbors. For his parents, the topic of the mine is extremely sensitive.
“It certainly is causing tension between my family and the neighbors,” Scott says. “[The neighbors] didn’t intentionally come out and do a rock pit to hurt us. They’re just trying to make a few bucks on their property.”
He fears that his family will eventually be forced to drop the asking price so low that only buyers looking for a quick investment will consider the land. That, he worries, could mean the end of the farm’s tranquility that the Lays have nurtured for so long.
“I did vote for Measure 37,” Scott says. “But like a lot of people, I was not voting for what it has seemed to become.”