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City might have to dig deep to repair squares

Complications could make fixing protest camp sites more costly
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Leaves and mud have replaced campers and trash in Chapman and Lownsdale squares, where experts are still assessing the damage caused by Occupy Portland.

Portlanders are finding out why large groups that use city parks are required to take out permits, pay fees and cover the costs of repairs.

The cost of rehabilitating Chapman and Lownsdale squares after five weeks of an Occupy Portland encampment could be substantial, with the price tag hitting $100,000 or more. That is in addition to the police overtime costs for dealing with the protesters, currently pegged at nearly $1.3 million and rising.

And it is unlikely that much of the money to repair the squares will come from the protesters, who cannot account for any of the funds they raised while camped there.

The largest single contribution to the cleanup, $25,000, has come from Umpqua Bank. According to Parks commissioner Nick Fish, about 100 people have also pledged between $10 and $100 to the Fund for Portland's Historic Squares established by the nonprofit Portland Parks Foundation.

Portland Parks and Recreation is still assessing damage to the two squares and has not issued an official estimate of the repair cost. Among other things, experts are testing the soil for contamination at various locations, including where the communal kitchen was stationed. Whatever the results show, repairing the property after several weeks of heavy and continuous use will not be easy.

For starters, city parks must be designed, built and maintained according to much higher standards that those facing homeowners installing a new lawn. Among other things, the planted areas must be constructed to survive daily abuse, including large crowds. The soil must be specially mixed and, in some cases, layered to allow the vegetation to recover from the damage. The standards are set by the Construction Specifications Institute, a national organization that establishes the specifications for many different kinds of construction projects.

Structural, electric and plumbing work must be done according to national, state and city codes. These standards will apply to the two public restrooms in the squares that were overloaded and disabled during the Occupy Portland camp.

Repair work in the park is also complicated by their large trees. Portland Parks and Recreation policies prevent city workers or contractors from using heavy equipment under tree canopies to prevent damage to roots. This means that excavating, replacing and grading the soil must be done by hand.

'These are hard parks to work in,' says parks landscape architect George Lozovoy.

City policies for managing the parks include a system for regulating their use and recovering repair costs. It begins with requiring fees for groups that use the parks. The fees vary depending on the size of the park, the purpose of the group and the length of the event. For example, fees for major parks are higher than those for minor parks. And groups staging free events are charged less than those charging admission.

Tom McCall Waterfront Park is a major park. Daily fees range from $100 for free events to $1,985 for commercial events. In 2010, the Portland Rose Festival paid $114,859 to rent the park for 36 days. But the festival also paid $12,198 to repair the park after its 36-day run.

All large groups that use the park are billed to repair the damage they cause. Also in 2010, the repair bill for the Cinco de Mayo festival was $6,521. The Brewer's Festival paid $5,092, and the Bite of Oregon paid $6,335.

Both Chapman and Lownsdale squares are minor parks. Daily fees range from $100 for free events to $995 for commercial events. The Portland Marathon paid $718 to use the two squares for three days this fall. Groups that use the squares are also billed for the cost of repairs.

But Occupy Portland did not take out a permit when protesters moved into the squares on Oct. 6. The Occupy movement is not a legally incorporated organization, meaning the city cannot bill it for repairs.

Some protesters have talked about helping to pay the repair costs, but it is unclear where the money would come from. At one point, an Occupy finance committee said that about $14,000 had been continued through a PayPal account. But later committee members reported that the money was either stolen or returned to contributors.

Donors can contribute to the Fund for Portland's Historic Squares at www.portlandparksfoundation.org.