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County looks to sell land

Troutdale will need to vacate right of way for planned connector

TROUTDALE - The last time the City Council considered ceding authority over right of way land for a long-proposed highway connector, it chose to maintain the status quo.

Some councilors and a Multnomah County commissioner hope the body will reconsider the topic soon.

Commissioner Lonnie Roberts plans to lobby Troutdale to free the 8.35-acre right of way so its sale proceeds can go toward the underfunded East County Justice Center in Gresham. Selling the land - a swath of 125 acres recently purchased by McMenamins Edgefield and the Reynolds School District - could add nearly $2 million to the $21 million project. The $15.25 million proceeds from the 125 acres sold went toward the fledgling Justice Center.

Troutdale holds the key to unlocking the remaining acreage, which was set aside for a possible connector freeway between Interstate 84 and Highway 26. The city would have to pull out of an agreement with other East County cities to eliminate the right of way from consideration for the corridor.

Tom Mack, Roberts' assistant, asserts it's not in the taxpayers' interests to keep funds tied up in idle land for possible plans while active projects like the Justice Center languish.

'The cold, hard facts is that it is about money - to complete a project I told taxpayers we would fund,' Mack said. 'We do this by selling surplus properties. It's more about doing things in the now that need to be done rather than continuing to put off decisions we think we might do in the future.'

Mack said Commissioner Roberts is frustrated that the city of Gresham supports maintaining the land's right of way status. Unlike Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis, who has voiced support for a future connector road, Roberts doesn't see the 242nd Avenue Troutdale route as a realistic pathway to linking the highways.

'Right now we don't see it as a viable option,' Mack said. 'We don't see that much problem in eliminating it from the table.'

Roberts, said Mack, hopes Troutdale councilors will reverse their 2005 vote and release the right of way land from local government grips.

Troutdale Councilor Jim Kight, who has been a vocal proponent of the idea, said he would gladly vote in favor of ceding the acreage. Kight wasn't serving on council during the 2005 vote.

'I think there are enough votes now,' he said. 'People have common sense to know (the connector) is not needed and there's no money to build it.'

'I'm so frustrated by this whole process,' he added. 'I haven't had anybody explain to me what's the point' of keeping the land.

If the right of way is eliminated and McMenamins and Reynolds buy the remaining acreage, Kight argues, Edgefield will be able to expand without the threat of a new freeway cutting across its land.

'I hope McMenamins and Reynolds can make their appeal,' he said. 'You'd have job creation in less than five years.'

He thought it was ironic, given the city's stance on the matter, that Gresham will directly benefit from the Justice Center being properly funded.

Dave Ripma agrees with his fellow councilor. He doesn't see the benefit of a new connector even if it comes to fruition.

'I certainly would support the county in vacating that land,' he said, adding that the right of way issue will likely come before the council soon.

'It's better to improve the roads we've got. It's a much more realistic investment.'