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TRIB TOWN: North Portlanders get $237,000-plus in grants
by: DENISE FARWELL, Carmen Castaneda, 5, and David Dupon, 7, play at the Bethel Neighborhood Youth Drop-In Center, a beneficiary of the North Portland Trust Fund.

Fall signals the beginning of grant season for North Portland neighborhoods.

This year, more than $237,000 from the city of Portland and Metro will be given in grants to individuals, organizations and businesses in North Portland.

The sum is substantially more than what is available for most Portland neighborhoods, but the funds have come with a price.

North Portlanders have to live with a handful of inconveniences for which they are compensated with neighborhood improvement grants from the city and Metro.

There are three funds that are meant to compensate for operations and nuisances in the neighborhood: the former St. Johns Landfill, the Metro garbage transfer station and Portland International Raceway, or PIR.

Soon, the neighborhood city's coalition office will begin accepting applications for the annual North Portland Trust Fund, the most controversial of the three mitigation funds.

It was created in response to neighborhood complaints about the noise from the race cars at PIR. Since the mid-1990s, a portion of the proceeds from each race has gone into the neighborhood fund. A committee of community activists divvies up approximately $30,000 each year among nearly two-dozen applicants with various community improvement projects.

Pam Arden, a member of the trust fund committee, has lived near PIR for 29 years and always has put up with the racetrack noise. She has served on the North Portland Trust Fund committee for two years, giving grants to projects that include child-care services, graffiti abatement, and school and environmental projects.

'It's unfortunate we have PIR up here giving us the noise and the money,' she said. 'But I'm glad we can turn it around and make it useful to the community.'

One community service group that continues to receive funding from the trust fund is the Bethel Neighborhood Youth Drop-In Center on North Denver Avenue in the Overlook neighborhood. The center operates out of the Bethel Lutheran Church basement, and it is an after-school program for elementary-age kids in low-income families. Last year, the fund contributed $3,000 to the center's annual $70,000 budget.

'It brings up interesting issues,' center Director Melody Bucholz said, referring to the group's decision to accept the money indirectly from PIR. 'But I don't have a problem taking the money, because we really need it.'

Complaints keep coming

Richard Ellmyer has lived near PIR since 1975 and is furious about the mitigation fund.

'To choose to use the money to buy off the neighborhood with cookies and candy is not what it ought to be used for,' Ellmyer said.

Instead of funding bits and pieces of community projects, he'd like to see the funds go to noise reduction projects.

'The problem is that there probably isn't a good fix for $30,000 a year,' said Tom Griffin-Valade, executive director of the district coalition office, North Portland Neighborhood Services.

Complicating the issue even further is the frustration from other neighborhoods about North Portland's grant opportunities. Willie Brown, interim executive director of Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, wants to see the PIR mitigation money spread to the rest of the city.

'A lot of our neighborhoods are affected by the sound, too,' he said. 'We've never had funds available like North Portland has.'

Garbage, landfill give back

While the North Portland Trust Fund remains a hot-button issue for many neighbors, the funds coming from two Metro programs are far less controversial. Each year, Metro oversees neighborhood committees that issue grants from the North Portland Enhancement Fund and the Metro Central Enhancement Fund.

The North Portland fund is mitigation for the St. Johns Landfill, which closed in 1990 but caused so much pollution that the land is unusable. About $45,000 in grants is given from that fund each year, and applications are due in December.

The Metro Central Enhancement Fund is for only a portion of North Portland and for Northwest Portland, Linnton and Forest Park as mitigation for a garbage transfer station.

North Portland is included in the grant applications because the transfer station generates an increase in large-truck traffic, especially over the St. Johns Bridge. That fund gives out approximately $140,000 each year for larger projects.

Karen Blauer operates the Community Enhancement Grants program for Metro, and said she is inspired by the way the community turns an inconvenience into an opportunity for improvement.

'People are really using the resources to make improvements,' she said. 'They're making their neighborhoods a much better place to live.'

Beginning in 2008, North Portland will add another mitigation fund to its list. When the Oregon Department of Transportation expands Interstate 5 from Delta Park to North Lombard Avenue, it will create a $1 million fund for enhancement projects such as widening sidewalks, tree planting and bicycle lanes.

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