Opinion » Editorial

Have a grievance with your government?

Sometimes it costs money to redress it

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his week, we've been witness to numerous discussions around public process. Some of those discussions have centered around the lawsuit brought by Central Oregon LandWatch and WaterWatch of Oregon against the City of Bend for the Bridge Creek water project. The recent increase in water and sewer fees has made some question the lawsuit as an overreach that is costing Bendites money.

It's built into the First Amendment to be allowed to petition the government for the redress of grievances. While not always palatable to some, legal action through the courts system is often the way this part of the Bill of Rights works.

If redress doesn't occur in court, it can manifest in other ways, including referendums, and even protest. Both of these, however, should come with an articulated demand, at the very least.

Among the many films at the BendFilm festival this past weekend was "No Man's Land," giving an on-the-ground view of the happenings during the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge last year. The film follows the ranchers who persuaded others to form a militia, and join them at the Malheur refuge, where they would take a stand against "tyranny." For Ammon and Ryan Bundy and their family, that "tyranny" manifested itself in the federal government's requirement that they pay fees for the use of federal grazing lands.

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s the film unfolds—offering first-hand interviews with both occupiers and local folks in Burns—it becomes clear that the occupiers' petitions for redress are thin, at best. They want to "take a stand," but that "stand" included few actual, tangible demands of the government.

Sure, anarchy and the creation of a press spectacle is one way to goad public officials into action—but it tends to work less efficiently than the dreaded lawsuit. In this case, that spectacle resulted in the death of LaVoy Finicum and the months-long shutdown and degradation of a valuable public resource—one that was conceived of and supported by the locals who live near the refuge. No one won when the majority of the occupiers were acquitted on federal charges. The people of Burns won nothing but headache. Taxpayers also lost when costs piled up for paying federal agents to step in, and to pay refuge staff who were not able to work at the refuge—even months after the occupation ended. These costs are hard to track, but there were no winners in this process. This anarchy did not help the people of Burns, Oregon or the United States.

A still from the film, No Mans Land - BENDFILM
  • BendFilm
  • A still from the film, No Mans Land
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eanwhile, some in Bend would like to decry the fact that one of the area's only true watchdogs on government activity may have caused your water bill to go up, through its lawsuit against the City of Bend. The suit, filed in 2014, ruled upon (in favor of the City of Bend) this August, and then appealed this month, alleges that the city did not properly review the potential environmental impacts when it began improvements on the Bridge Creek water project, which would provide some of the water for people in Bend.

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It's easy to draw a line between a lawsuit that seeks to protect not just locals, but the wider ecological milieu, and the fact that the suit is costing the defendant some money. But unlike the actions of the anarchists or activists, who acted willy-nilly, with few actual demands, the LandWatch lawsuit follows the rule of law—something that can't be overstated. This is a group that follows the letter of the law to challenge those tasked with interpreting the law, managing public funds, and in turn, protecting the environment from threat.

Indeed, as LandWatch Executive Director Paul Dewey said last year, the costs were a result of the city deciding to pursue a project that could be harmful to the environment. Additionally, the city opted to hire an expensive attorney from Washington, D.C. for its defense, Dewey stated.

When contrasting the anarchic actions of the Malheur occupiers with the law-abiding actions of LandWatch, we'll take the few extra bucks on our water bills.

It might be a longer game that's harder to see, but things like contamination of water, resultant extinction of species, and overall, massive environmental degradation, are the real threats to our life, liberty, pursuit of happiness—and yes, pocketbooks—but only through the rule of law will we be able to protect them.


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