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Water pipeline plan hits a snag in West Linn park

by: VERN UYETAKE Lake Oswego officials are reconsidering locations for routing a new, bigger water pipe to the city’s treatment plant in West Linn after plans for a course through Mary S. Young State Park, shown here, fell through.

City officials knew the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership, spanning four cities and featuring $230 million worth of planned projects, would face a lot of obstacles. But they were recently taken by surprise after encountering what they say is a rare provision in West Linn's land-use code.

Although West Linn's rules allow some development - including public utilities - within protected natural resource areas, the city limits those projects because of concerns for wildlife habitat, wetlands and waterways.

Lake Oswego's planned 48-inch-wide pipeline to a treatment plant in West Linn is no exception.

As a result, project planners are now looking for alternate courses for the pipeline, which they originally planned to route through Mary S. Young Park. That initial plan was abandoned following a pre-application conference with West Linn planners and subsequent analysis of the city's land-use rules.

'The bottom line was we would have to apply for a variance,' said Jane Heisler, communications director for the water partnership. 'That has some risk to it in terms of timing and whether you'll get it or not.'

The upsized pipe is among an array of planned projects aiming to upgrade and expand Lake Oswego's water infrastructure to better serve its population while providing water to the city of Tigard as well. By taking as much water from the Clackamas River as it legally can, Lake Oswego plans to double the amount of water treated at a plant in West Linn and piped north along Highway 43.

Other planned projects include building a new intake facility along the Clackamas River in Gladstone, a bigger treatment facility in West Linn and a new reservoir in Lake Oswego plus replacing a Tigard pump station.

Partnership officials have not filed formal applications in West Linn but have met with planners and neighborhood representatives to discuss broad plans for its raw-water pipeline to West Linn.

According to a staff report from the meeting, Lake Oswego initially proposed a new pipeline that would run from its water intake facility on the Clackamas River in Gladstone west to go under the Willamette River, where it would make landfall on a gravel bar near the mouth of Mary S. Young Creek in West Linn. From there, the pipe would jog north, staying roughly parallel to the shoreline, through an open meadow and eventually west to Mapleton Drive. It would then run beneath the road in the public right of way to the water plant.

The project would require special permits to build in the Willamette and Tualatin River Protection Area, to build in a sensitive water resources area and variances related to the allowed width of a construction corridor. It would also need permits to build in a flood management area, for erosion control, stormwater quality and detention, and for parks design review.

An alternate plan didn't appear to have much better prospects. To avoid affecting wetlands, the pipeline could instead run through Mary S. Young Park's forested area - where Lake Oswego's existing, smaller pipeline is now buried - which would require removing 60-foot-tall Douglas fir trees and could disrupt public access to trails.

Back in the wetland area near the Willamette River shore, a utility corridor couldn't disturb an area wider than 25 feet, and Lake Oswego's project would affect an area up to 40 or 50 feet wide during construction.

In addition, West Linn's code would limit the utility corridor to 200 linear feet or 20 percent of the total length of the wetland. But Lake Oswego's pipeline would be much longer.

Heisler said the restrictions had Lake Owego's planners 'scratching our heads.'

'We know West Linn also has a big pipe in that park, it has sewer and water facilities there,' she said. 'What are they going to do when they have to do something there? … They said they didn't know.'

West Linn Associate Planner Peter Spir said the city's code is not unique.

It's actually 'almost identical' to a model code produced by Metro to help cities comply with the regional government's policies protecting environmentally sensitive lands, he said.

'West Linn's language is not a rarity when compared to other communities,' Spir said.

Without an actual application in hand, he didn't want to comment on the likelihood Lake Oswego's initial ideas for the pipeline project would have been approved or whether a new route will encounter similar obstacles.

Lake Oswego project managers are now considering bringing the new, bigger pipe to West Linn via Dillow Drive in the Bolton neighborhood or somewhere north of the park through Robinwood, said David Prock, deputy director of capital projects for Lake Oswego.

The change won't affect the overall project completion date, although it could set back pipeline construction. Officials hope the additional analysis will be finished by the end of August.

It's unclear how much the additional analysis work or construction of a different design could cost.

'Depending on where the pipe might get rerouted, that could add millions of dollars to the cost,' Prock said. 'Until we finally hone in on the route we actually want to construct, we won't know for sure.'

Thomas Boes, president of the Robinwood Neighborhood Association, said many local residents have concerns about disruptions of roadways because of construction activities.

The trench needed for the pipe, surrounded by a work zone for construction equipment, could block some narrow roads in Robinwood. It's possible that some homes would have limited, if any, access during periods of construction.

'Of more concern to us is access for emergency vehicles down the street during that time period,' Boes said. 'We want to make sure they address emergency access during that period in any proposals.'

Others in West Linn have taken issue with Lake Oswego's plan to exercise its full water rights and tap more water from the Clackamas River to serve a community without rights to that water. And lowering river levels could have an impact on threatened fish species.

Meanwhile, plans to expand Lake Oswego's water treatment plant on Kenthorpe Way to several lots the city owns on Mapleton Drive will go through a separate application process in West Linn later. That proposal has also generated controversy among residents of Mapleton Drive.

Heisler, who is also communications director for the Lake Oswego Interceptor Sewer (LOIS) project, a massive effort to replace the backbone of the city's wastewater system with a buoyant sewer line in Oswego Lake, said neither contention nor plan changes have come as a big shock.

'When you have a big complex project like this, you're going to run into all kinds of things,' Heisler said. 'It reminds me of LOIS three or four years ago: We didn't have a way to get to the lake, and our deal with the school district had just fallen through on our access point at Lake Grove Park. But you just keep plugging away and working these things out.'

That project has remained on time and under budget throughout its duration.

The latest hiccup in West Linn, Heisler said, 'isn't surprising' from the water partnership's broader perspective.

'It's such a large geographic area,' she said. 'We're dealing with four different cities. We have several different codes to deal with and different approaches to land use. I guarantee you things will pop up again and more often. It's just the nature of the project.'