Agricultural Soils Capability Assessment
History and Purpose |
House Bill 3647 (Bill) (2010)
created a process for property owners and others who wish to challenge published soils information on agricultural land when applying for certain land use changes. Such an application must be accompanied by more detailed soils data produced by a professional soil classifier or soil scientist. The bill creates a role for the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (the department) in this process.
Soil capability plays an important determinative role in many land use decisions under Oregon’s statewide land use planning program. For this reason, the bill requires that individuals performing soils analyses be fully qualified as a Certified Professional Soil Classifier (CPSC) or have equivalent qualifications. The bill also requires soils professionals to be in good standing with the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA), meaning that the soils professional must sign an ethics statement and complete regular continuing education requirements. These qualifications and the department’s role in the process create a high professional standard for complete and accurate soils reports that challenge published agricultural land capability information.
In addition, the bill calls on the department to review the soils reports submitted. This new process will assist local governments by providing greater assurance of consistency and reliability in the soils data that are submitted, when certain land use decisions are being considered.
The bill allows the person who is seeking more detailed soils data to choose a qualifying soils professional from a list maintained by the department to obtain a soils assessment. The resulting soils assessment may not be released by the department prior to its use in a land use proceeding without the written consent of the property owner.
Only those soils assessments submitted under the provisions of the bill may be considered by local governments in local land use proceedings described in the bill.
Amendments to OAR 660-033-0030 and -0045 adopted in December 2011 establish a process for assessing agricultural land capability under the bill. These rule amendments:
- Describe the applicability of the rule;
- Define the qualifications of a “professional soil classifier”;
- Define an “independent panel of soils professionals” to evaluate certain applicant qualifications to participate;
- Describe a process for the department to list, update and post qualified soils professionals;
- Describe a process for persons to request a soils assessment;
- Describe a process for submitting soils assessments to the department;
- Describe a process for the department review of soils assessments;
- Describe a process for releasing soils assessments to local governments;
- State that after October 1, 2011, only those soils assessments arranged through the department may be considered by local governments; and
- Define a “soils assessment auditing committee” of professional peers to periodically re-evaluate soils professionals.
OAR 660-033-0030 and -0045 apply to land zoned for exclusive farm use or mixed farm-forest use. They also apply to rezonings from forest to nonresource use, where the applicant relies on alternative soils information to demonstrate that the land does not qualify as agricultural land. The rules apply to changes in plan designations and zoning, certain nonfarm dwelling and nonfarm land division approvals and potentially other applications. Rule references to a “person” seeking more detailed soils information means any individual, partnership, corporation, association, governmental subdivision or agency or public or private organization of any kind.
Soils professionals may apply to the department to be placed on the List of Qualified Soils Professionals, below. Applicants who are Certified Professional Soil Classifiers (CPSC) in good standing with the SSSA must complete and return the Soils Professional Application to Perform Soils Assessments. Applicants who are Certified Professional Soil Scientists (CPSS) in good standing with the SSSA, who have equivalent qualifications as a CPSC as determined by an independent panel of soils professionals, may also apply to be placed on the List by completing and returning the application form as well as the Professional Experience Form. Applications will be reviewed and processed on an as-needed basis. Soils professionals must re-apply for listing on a biennial basis.
Arranging for a Soils Assessment
A person or property owner requesting a soils assessment must choose from the list of qualified soils professionals and privately contract for a soils assessment to be prepared and submitted to the department together with a Soils Assessment Submittal Form that is signed by the property owner and the soils professional.
Soils Assessment Reporting Requirements
The completed soils assessment must be submitted to the department and not to the local government, and must include the information requested in the Soils Assessment Report Requirements form. This information is nearly identical to the information currently required for soils reports for lots of record under OAR 603-080-0040, performed through the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Please note that the most recent NRCS soils mapping must be provided, available at: Web Soil Survey - Home. This process is the “completeness check.” If the department determines that reports are incomplete or unclear, soils professionals will have an opportunity to supply additional information or clarification.
Department Review of Soils Assessments
The department will use the services of a contracted soils professional to review and evaluate approximately 10% of submitted soils assessments, as funding permits, within 30 days of the submittal of a soils assessment that is deemed complete. Evaluations may include field checks, at the discretion of the department. Selected soils assessments will be those that indicate that a predominance of subject parcel soils are less productive than the NRCS Internet Soil Survey indicates, where one or more of the following apply:
- A prior assessment by the soils professional under OAR 660-033-0030 and 0045 was determined not to be soundly and scientifically based;
- A county has requested review of the work of a specific soils professional;
- The soils assessment is for a proposed rezoning of more than 100 acres;
- Any subject parcel soils are shown to be more than one capability classification lower than that of the NRCS Internet Soil Survey; or
- Soils assessments submitted by the soils professional under OAR 660-033-0030 and 0045 have not yet been evaluated or have been evaluated relatively fewer times than the work of other participating soils professionals.
Where soils assessments are determined not to be soundly and scientifically based, the soils professional will be provided an opportunity to correct any noted deficiencies. Where such deficiencies are not corrected, written notification of deficiencies will be provided to the soils professional, property owner and person who requested the soils assessment.
Department Audits of Soils Professionals
Soils assessments and department reviews and field checks are subject to periodic audit by an independent soils assessment auditing committee of peers to determine continuing qualifications of participating soils professionals. Soils professionals must also maintain continued good standing with the SSSA.
List of Qualified Soils Professionals
The current list of qualified soils professionals is shown below. Property owners and others who wish to challenge agricultural land capability must select one of these individuals to prepare a soils assessment. These individuals have the necessary education and experience to provide detailed soils data to determine whether soils are agricultural. However, this listing is not an endorsement and those requesting soils assessments are encouraged to request references as well as bids from more than one soils professional. It can also be useful to obtain a preliminary field check to determine whether a full soils assessment is warranted. Only soils assessments submitted by thelisted individuals to the department may be considered by local governments in local land use proceedings. This list will be updated on an as needed basis.
|Persons Requesting a Soils Assessment|
Arranging for a Soils Assessment
If, as a property owner or representative, you would like to obtain more detailed soils data than is found in the Internet soil survey produced by the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine whether land qualifies as agricultural land prior to a land use application to a local government, you must follow certain steps. First, you must select one of the soils professionals identified on the List of Qualified Soils Professionals above and obtain a soils assessment. Next, you must submit an electronic version of the soils assessment together with a Soils Assessment Submittal Form and a non-refundable review fee of $625 to the department. This form includes a liability waiver and authorization for access to the property to be signed by the property owner or representative, in the event the soils assessment is selected for review and a field check.
Department Release of Soils Assessments
The department will release a soils assessment to a local government only with the written consent of the property owner. If you would like the department to release a soils assessment, please complete and return a Soils Assessment Release Form. On receipt of this form, all soils assessments produced under OAR 660-033-0030 as well as any deficiencies noted in any department review of such soils assessments will also be released to the local government.
Soils assessments provided by soils professionals can provide more detailed and valuable information on agricultural land capability ratings. However, soils ratings are only one part of the definition of agricultural land. Local governments have the responsibility to use soils ratings together with other information, to determine whether land is “suitable” for farm use, “necessary” to permit nearby farming, or intermingled as part of a “farm unit.” Similarly, only local governments can ultimately determine whether soils being considered for nonfarm dwellings or nonfarm land divisions are “generally unsuitable” for the production of farm crops, livestock or merchantable tree species. Soils assessments should not be exclusively relied upon by local governments when making these types of findings.
Local governments should let property owners, planning consultants and others know of the requirements for the use of qualified soils professionals as described above. You may wish to post or provide a link to this site and the list of qualified soils professionals.
Only those soils assessments submitted to the department and released to local governments may be used in local land use proceedings requiring compliance with HB 3647 and OAR 660-033-0030. Land use applications that challenge NRCS soils information on agricultural land capability should not be considered complete without such a soils assessment. No testimony at local hearings in support of a land use proposal that introduces any new evidence or makes findings not described in such soils assessments may be relied upon in making local land use decisions. Where soils assessments have been prepared without going through the department, property owners and others may request retroactive review of the soils assessment and qualifications of the soils professional, though this outcome is uncertain and the local land use proceeding must be put on hold.
Contact Tim Murphy at (503) 934-0048 or by email at email@example.com to submit forms or with questions.