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Mayors mull over critical issues

Leaders from five North Clackamas cities gather to discuss growth, wastewater and more
by: Anthony Roberts, Damascus City Council President Jim Wright, right, discusses issues with a North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce member last week.

The five cities of North Clackamas County gathered for a 'state of the cities' question-and-answer event last week that underscored both the common ground and vast differences between the area's communities.

The mayors of Gladstone, Happy Valley, Milwaukie, Oregon City, and the council president of Damascus each addressed a crowded gymnasium at the Oregon Institute of Technology's Clackamas Campus on Jan. 23, in an event sponsored by the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce. Some of the talking points, like library funding, provided common ground, while others, like envisioning the future of each community, illustrated the cities' differences. Gladstone Mayor Wade Byers, for example, talked about the city's desire to keep change at a minimum, while Milwaukie Mayor Jim Bernard envisioned a drastically altered city with a more vibrant downtown core. And perhaps no community is expecting more change than Damascus, where Council President Jim Wright and other officials are still trying to build a comprehensive plan for Oregon's newest city, which was incorporated in 2004 and is expected to add thousands of people over the next two decades.

Each city leader was given a few questions ahead of time, but members of the audience also submitted written questions to moderator Joe Krumm, community relations director at North Clackamas School District.

Transportation

With each community facing different transportation concerns, one common theme emerged: funding for road projects.

'It's money, we don't have the money,' Bernard said when asked about Milwaukie's biggest transportation issue. 'As the roads decay the costs go up.'

Bernard noted that the city is undertaking a project to repair roads in the city. 'I think it's sad that we're doing this on our own.'

Byers said Gladstone is facing major problems on surface streets controlled by the county. He said the council is forced to ask: 'What is it that you don't want us to do so that we have the revenue to pay for streets.'

Oregon City Mayor Alice Norris said the city is trying to find a solution for the bottleneck formed at the junction of I-205 and Highway 213. Traffic at the intersection is a limiting factor in future development in town.

For Happy Valley and Damascus the issues are different. Many of the residential streets in those towns are newer, low-traffic streets that funnel into a major road; for Happy Valley that's Sunnyside Road, for Damascus, Highway 212.

Happy Valley Mayor Rob Wheeler said the city has a keen interest in the Sunrise Corridor, the plan to link I-205 with Highway 26. The first part of the plan calls for a new road from I-205 to Rock Creek junction, the intersection where Highways 212 and 224 meet. The second part connects Rock Creek junction to Highway 26. Wright, the Damascus council president, said the city isn't even considering the corridor in its comprehensive plan process, because it is assuming the road will not be built anytime in the near future.

Wastewater

Wastewater treatment is another pressing issue for each of the North Clackamas communities. The increasing number of homes has the Kellogg Treatment Plant in Milwaukie operating at 105 percent capacity, while Oregon City's Tri-Cities Plant is working at more than 90 percent capacity. Much of the increase in wastewater is a result of growth in places like Happy Valley and Clackamas.

The older cities on the Willamette River are looking at protecting investments they've already made without saddling their taxpayers with the burden of new homes to the east.

'West Linn, Oregon City and Gladstone have made a substantial contribution to having a good system and we don't want that to get lost,' Byers said. The Gladstone mayor said the question is not who is going to pay for additional capacity. 'We're trying to find out who's not going to pay for it,' he said.

Wright said that from Damascus' point of view, the wastewater problem is not just one of capacity. 'We have a siting problem, we have a management problem,' he said, advocating that the wastewater system be put under a single entity. 'Having several different management styles and organizations I think is creating the problems we have today.'

Norris said the problem is going to require cooperation between each community. 'I don't have a solution,' she said, 'we will have a solution.'