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December 03, 2013
SHERIDAN — J.W. Millegan, the man behind the idea of building a world-class equestrian competition venue and events center in Polk County, has been absolutely sure his dream would become reality.
Millegan's vision for Wallace Bridge International Equestrian Events and Competition Venue depends on the modification of a Wetlands Reserve Program conservation easement on the property near the intersection of highways 18 and 22
In October 2012, the Natural Resources Conser-vation Service, which manages the easement, denied his request for a "land exchange." The exchange would have traded land needed to build the facility for property adjacent to the current easement. NRCS found in its denial, in part, that Millegan did not demonstrate a "compelling public need" for the modification.
Millegan appealed that decision, taking his case to the United States Depart-ment of Agriculture.
USDA Hearings Officer Julie Reading's Nov. 22 ruling put some weight behind Millegan's confidence. Reading called the NCRS's denial of his request "erroneous," and decided in favor of Millegan's appeal.
"Wallace Bridge wins. Oregon wins and the environment wins," Millegan said in a press release. "All of our claims were upheld."
Reading said NRCS failed to follow its own process when analyzing the proposed modification. She also said, to the contrary of the NRCS claims, Millegan did show the proposed easement addressed a public need.
"Appellant (Millegan) presented substantial and credible evidence showing that the proposed easement would better facilitate wetlands restoration than the current easement," she said. "Appellant also presented substantial evidence that the proposed easement would promote species survival and recovery more than the current easement, thereby meeting a compelling public need by NRCS' own definition."
The NCRS has until Dec. 13 to appeal the decision, but Millegan is hoping to get the support of local and national elected officials in an effort to persuade the NRCS to simply approve the modification.