By Richard Emmons
In Pixar’s 1998 animated film “A Bug’s Life,” the ants worked hard and served the grasshoppers. One day a single ant questioned the order of things. The grasshopper in charge saw where this might lead:
“If you let one ant stand up to us, then they all might stand up to us. The puny, little ants outnumber us a hundred to one. And if they ever figure that out, there goes our way of life! It’s not about food, it’s about keeping those ants in line.”
Over a hundred-thousand Oregon property owners received a letter from the Oregon Department of Forestry notifying them that their property was rated “Extreme Risk” or “High Risk.”
Many wondered what this was all about. Was it just their property? When Oregon’s Wildfire Risk Maps got released into the wild, many of us knew that something was very wrong. The ants immediately got restless. Over 1,200 people showed up at a July 28 Zoom meeting.
Vince Webb relayed his story of having his July homeowner’s insurance renewal cancelled and his new insurance company charging twice his previous premium. The new insurance company said the Oregon Wildfire Risk Map was the cause of the increase. This story was reported in the Medford Mail-Tribune and soon was all over social media.
In addition to higher insurance costs, SB 762 mandates new building code requirements that will increase the cost of building a new home in the affected areas. As pointed out in Sen. Dennis Linthicum’s page 1 story, SB 762 removed ODF’s former $25 cap on annual wildfire mitigation costs. Now the cost to mitigate wildfire risks has no cap and will be a lien on affected properties.
Once people understood the implications of SB 762, the ants got down-right out of line. People spoke up at meetings, they called their state representatives, and they got the word out to their neighbors. Many submitted a formal appeal of the risk rating. The ODF received 2,000 appeals with many more on the way by mail because the ODF system did not work with Macs.
On Aug. 4, ODF announced that it was withdrawing the initial wildfire risk map and notifications.
Yes, this was a major win for the people. Yet the fight is not over.
SB 762 involved 11 Oregon state agencies, which continue their work to implement the law. The defensible space code goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2023. The building code requirements go into effect on April 1, 2023. ODF is working on a new map that likely will be completed just after the November election. When the new map is released, the appeals process will start over.
Can SB 762 be “fixed” in the next legislative session? A better question is: Should it be repealed instead?
Without responsible wildfire risk management by the federal government, private property owners in Oregon should be held to the rules and requirements that pre-date SB 762.
Oregon property owners should continue to let all political candidates know they want SB 762 repealed. When the appeals process begins again, all affected property owners should file an appeal. Imagine the impact if 50,000 appeals were filed. Organizers are building an email list at fight762.com. Sign up for updates.
Fixing SB 762 is not enough. Trust has been lost. Insurance companies need an unambiguous signal to stop relying on Oregon’s wildfire risk maps. The building codes are strict enough already.
Let’s repeal SB 762 in 2023.
Richard Emmons is the Publisher and Editor of the Josephine County Eagle.