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Neighbors worry that 100 new apartments will disrupt eagles

Progress Ridge residents so far can't persuade officials to delay complex construction

SUBMITTED PHOTO - A map included with application materials submitted to the city of Beaverton shows the future site of Trillium Woods Apartments to the northwest of Progress Lake Park.Steve Fisher has seen the bald eagles soaring high above his home in the Progress Ridge area of southwest Beaverton.

So has Jesse Nemec, who lives nearby.

Fisher is the one who touched off a neighborhood effort to protect the eagles when he recently posted about them on the social media website Nextdoor, a post which quickly grew into an active discussion.

Nemec is the construction manager for Trillium Woods Apartments, a 100-unit complex that’s planned just off Southwest Scholls Ferry Road in a grove of trees wedged between housing developments and right in the bull’s-eye of neighborhood concern for the eagles.

Fisher found himself wondering: “How did they get permission to log that property when there’s eagles up there?”

“There’s dozens of people here who have seen the eagles here year after year after year,” Fisher added. “It’s not like they’re sparrows or starlings. There aren’t that many of them.”

By several accounts, the eagles are drawn to the area around Progress Lake to the southeast of the Trillium Woods location because hatchery reared rainbow trout are stocked there for anglers but also make easy meals for the fish-loving raptors.

Fisher’s comments grew into an ongoing discussion and nascent movement that so far has collected more than 100 signatures from neighbors who asked city or wildlife authorities to sideline the apartment construction at least long enough to convince them the complex won’t disrupt the protected species.

“As a neighborhood, we just would like the developer to follow the proper channels to make sure there is no eagle nest and follow all laws if there is. That is all we are asking,” wrote neighbor Marcie Shuman, who has helped collect signatures.

Neighbors got some of their wish this week when one neighbor pointed out a nest neighbors thought might belong to eagles to a wildlife expert. But the expert identified it as likely belonging to hawks rather than eagles, neighbor Wendy Stekloff said Wednesday.

Stekloff called it a relief to know the eagles might be nesting farther away, but they are still investigating neighboring properties to make sure the eagles aren’t nesting close by.

She said their advocacy showed that: “Our neighborhood worked together to get the authorities to take action and investigate. Other people need to know that every neighborhood has that ability, no matter what the issue is.”

Even before a suspected nest was discounted as an eagle nest, federal officials appeared convinced that the Trillium Woods site isn’t important habitat for the eagles.

That was good enough for Beaverton city planners, who in April approved the developer’s application and expect to issue the final site development permit as early as next month, said senior planner Scott Whyte. The city relies on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife to make determinations regarding protected wildlife, he added.

“At this time, we haven’t seen any apparent violations of the Endangered Species Act,” Whyte said.

“I won’t dispute that there are eagles in the area,” said Nemec, the construction manager, who also doesn’t want to disturb the majestic birds.

Nemec already was convinced his project won’t do that. He said the developer aimed below the maximum number of units they could have built on the property zoned for high density and will spare a fair number of trees during construction.

Further, he’s not convinced they actually live anywhere near the site.

“I’ve never seen any eagles in this area until they started stocking the pond,” added Nemec, who understands local eagles nest along the Tualatin River and fly in for lunch.

Nemec walked the wooded 3-plus acres on Monday with a hired biologist who didn’t find signs of eagles using the land and who will submit a report to U.S. Fish & Wildlife and city officials within a week, he said.

Nemec noted that the prime perching trees overlooking the manmade lake — a former rock quarry turned into a Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District park next to Progress Ridge TownSquare — are 378 feet or more away from their property lines. That distance is not only longer than a football field, it’s beyond the area where a developer typically would need to take extra steps under federal regulations designed to protect the species, Nemec said.

The trees at the high northwest rim of the bowl-like lake are on land protected from development, Nemec and Whyte said.

Thinning trees and site development at Trillium Woods could begin later this summer. Nemec said the fairly upscale units should be ready to rent next year.