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Emotions run high

Citizens are not pleased with swim park plan

A loud, emotional response to the Lake Grove Swim Park closure plan prompted the city of Lake Oswego and one of its contractors for the Lake Oswego Sewer Interceptor project to see if the park could be kept open next summer.

Yet the hearing Tuesday evening was met with little positive response to the new plan to keep about a third to half of the site open for recreation.

The outcry arose because shareholders in the swim park were generally unaware that the school district, which has political jurisdiction over the park, was in negotiations to allow the city to use the park as a construction staging area for the $100 million sewer line, which will replace an undersized pipe that got state Department of Environmental Quality attention for repeated sewage overflows.

Patrons to the park showed up when the park opened in June to find that five maple trees had been marked for removal to make way for a temporary road. Without their knowledge, the easement to access Oswego Lake had already been granted by the Lake Corporation, which controls portions of the rim of the lake. The city was just waiting for the school district to grant an easement for the land.

'The majority doesn't want to compromise,' said resident Tia Ross regarding the latest offer to keep half of the park open. 'We wouldn't be here if the communication had happened the way it should have. I've heard a lot of things from people.'

Ross insinuated that now many disenfranchised people do not want to support the Lake Oswego School District Foundation or vote in favor of the November local option levy.

The kink in the whole plan is that the Lake Grove residents have the legal right to file for an injunction to stop the interceptor project. The deed that transferred the swim park from the Oregon Iron and Steel Company in 1954 specifies that the park should only be used for recreation. Though the school district's attorney wasn't present at the Wednesday morning school board meeting, Financial Director Stuart Ketzler characterized his analysis of the deed by saying that 'any reasonable judge would deny the request for an injunction.'

Since the district is requesting an easement - not a lease - there will be no actual possession of the property by the city. Additionally, the lease restricts commercial purposes, which should not affect a planned public improvement project, he said.

Despite that, disgruntled residents are still welcome to file concerns, and the school board can do little else other than apologize and explain the process up until this point.

'I would like to begin by apologizing in my error in judgment. I thought most were aware of the city's discussions about the Lake Grove Swim Park. I live at that end of that the lake and have been completely aware of the sewer overflows,' said Linda Brown, school board member. 'I want to emphasize that there has been nothing behind closed doors.'

Superintendent Bill Korach also apologized at Tuesday's hearing, saying that he wrongly asked the city to go ahead and talk to the public about the project. As cities do, they only notified immediate neighbors, said Korach, who agrees that neighbors in the entire Lake Grove district should have been notified.

At Wednesday morning's meeting, Ross insisted that Korach blamed the city for any miscommunication and said that was the perception of many in attendance. Jane Heisler, who is in charge of public outreach efforts for the sewer interceptor project, disagreed that she felt blamed.

In a phone interview with the Review, she said the city is willing to handle communications but heard only about a month ago that the school district wanted a letter sent by the city to swim park users. Until then, it was assumed that information about the swim park closure had been included in newsletters to parents sent by the school district.

'The school district board is the board for the Lake Grove Parks District that runs the swim park and it's really their constituents so one would expect them to communicate direction with them,' said Heisler. The city held a meeting on June 26 regarding the use of the swim park. Heisler said in the future, the city will do more to reach out to the different groups affected by the interceptor construction.

'We assume that the Lake Oswego Corporation is communicating about things that are affecting their shareholders and we assumed the school board was communicating with their constituents at the swim park. I don't think we can do that,' she said.

Heisler said the city and school board have been in talks about getting an easement to stage construction at the swim park since spring 2007. She characterized the city's approach as 'knowing that was a site we thought was ideal.'

Korach said he remembers having a conversation with former City Manager Doug Schmitz last summer about the site accommodating a pumping station. 'They were very informal during the summer with Doug and I as he was looking at options for the various alternatives the city was considering,' said Korach. 'The actual negotiations with them about the swim park have been recent.'

The city is planning an August insert on the interceptor project in Hello LO, which will go to all households in the 97034 and 97035 zip codes.

Tuesday night's hearing, hosted by the school district, had a presentation from Joel Komarek, director of the interceptor project, explaining the new suggestion that half of the park be kept open next year. The plan would save two of the five trees that were marked. Additionally, the contractor offered to have a flagger at the gate to help patrons access the park safely.

Residents who spoke up at Tuesday's meeting suggested that the city should have its own permanent access point so that this doesn't happen again in the future. Some suggested buying homes or taking down bridges to get the access rather than close the swim park for a season.

Kids spoke up about how one summer seems like a long time to them and talked about the friends they've met at the park. Some residents expressed concerns about where everyone would gather for the fireworks next Fourth of July. One mother was indignant that her 13-year-old daughter would not be swimming in her bikini at a park located right next to construction workers.

The district and city talked of solutions such as expanded hours or shuttle services to the Lake Oswego Swim Park, more options for other activities at the Lake Grove Swim Park for next summer, other locations for the fireworks, and crew training involving the proximity to children.

'To stand in the way of it on the argument that there is no place to go in the summer … This is a relatively temporary inconvenience,' said board member Bill Swindells. 'There are a million and half people in the Portland area that don't have access to a place that nice every summer.'

The school board will likely discuss the matter in executive session again before making a decision at its July 28 meeting.

Review City Reporter Lee van der Voo contributed to this story.