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City buys land to improve creek, fish habitat

Gresham is the proud owner of a missing 3-acre link in a 2-mile stretch of largely publicly owned land that happens to be prime salmon habitat.

City councilors on Tuesday, Jan. 15, agreed to pay $112,500 for the 2.87 acres of land at 1835 S.E. Liberty Ave. along Johnson Creek.

The city plans to use the property to improve the creek's water quality, which will improve the already impressive fish habitat there, said Steve Fancher, Gresham's director of environmental services. Nearly 3 acres of land purchased by the city of Gresham will link other swaths of publicly owned green space.

The property is between Hogan and Reneger roads near the Springwater Trail, and is the missing link in a stretch of nearly 2 miles of property along Johnson Creek that is almost entirely publicly owned by Gresham, Metro or both.

“This particular property is significant because it helps fill a bit of a gap,” Fancher said. “And this particular stretch has some of the best salmon habitat on it.”

“This is exciting,” said Matt Clark, executive director of the Johnson Creek Watershed Council. The council's watershed action plan 10 years ago identified this area of the creek as having the highest quality salmon habitat of all of Johnson Creek.

Volunteers in recent years have found coho carcasses in the creek in Gresham and near the city's western edge.

“We know that there are spawning salmon being found around this section of Johnson Creek, so protecting it is very important,” Clark said.

Plus, steelhead and rainbow trout have been found in other parts of Johnson Creek and its tributaries, including one near Reed College, he added.

“Salmon are using the site, and juvenile coho salmon do use it year-round,” Fancher said. “So it's providing good habitat now. It has potential to be even better, and it happens to be in this 2-mile stretch of prime salmon habitat in Gresham.”

Owning the property also makes it easier for the city to maintain a nearby section of the Springwater Trail.

The creek, as creeks do, has moved or meandered over time. “And in a couple places it has gotten very close to the Springwater Trail on this property,” Fancher said. Any closer, and the creek will erode soil next to and possibly under the trail, creating a scenario in which the trail could collapse.

“We try to identify those before they happen and do some geo-engineering along the creek banks to help keep the creek from moving closer to the trail and move it away from the trail a bit,” Fancher said. But in order to do that work, the city either has to own the land or get costly, difficult construction easements from private property owners.

Eroding soil also produces sediment that is bad for the creek's water quality, Clark said.

Purchasing the property fills the gap in 2 miles of almost entirely publicly owned land, “making a uniquely large-scale floodplain reconnection and fish habitat enhancement project possible in the future,” according to the city council packet.

The property includes an 800-square-foot house built in 1930 that is prone to flooding due to being in the flood plain. It is in such bad shape that it does not add significantly to the property's value, so the city plans to remove it. The house also is a suspected source of bacteria in Johnson Creek because it is still connected to a septic field next to the creek. Demolishing the house means the septic system can be decommissioned. This, coupled with improving vegetation on the creek banks, also will improve water quality and fish habitat.

Money for the purchase is from the 2006 Metro bond that voters approved to protect green spaces and preserve natural areas. Of Gresham's $2.6 million share, $400,000 is budgeted to improve Johnson Creek habitat. The city plans to use $50,000 of the earmarked funds to stabilize the creek banks where the it has meandered.




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