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Misstep delays water plant decision

Hearings reopened for more testimony


Still dragging on, the hearings for a proposed water treatment plant and pipeline have been continued yet again because of a misstep by the mayor of West Linn.

The West Linn City Council was due to close the hearings and deliberate on the controversial project during its Monday meeting; however, a statement by the mayor introduced new evidence, causing the city to reopen public testimony and applicant rebuttal.by: LORI HALL - Documents associated with the water treatment plant and pipeline conditional use permit applications are several feet thick.

The city council conducted two nights of public hearings Jan. 14 and 15 to collect community comment on Lake Oswego-Tigard water treatment plant expansion and pipeline public hearings.

Back on Nov. 1, the West Linn Planning Commission unanimously voted to deny the two conditional use permits, mainly due to lack of community benefit to West Linn. The Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership appealed the decision last month to the city council.

Lake Oswego has operated a water treatment plant at 4260 Kenthorpe Way in West Linn’s Robinwood neighborhood since 1968. In cooperation with the city of Tigard, Lake Oswego wants to expand the plant and run a new pipeline to address the future water needs of both cities.

The plant, which will hold up to 2 million stored gallons of water underground and handle up to 38 million gallons each day, also serves as an emergency backup water supply for West Linn.

Along with a new plant, the project involves the installation of a 4-foot-diameter pipeline from the Clackamas River through West Linn and into Lake Oswego. The pipeline, which will be broken into four construction phases, will extend 1.9 miles in West Linn, crossing through both residential and commercial areas.

Before entering deliberation, councilors asked city and LOT staff about home access during construction, Highway 43 work, the intergovernmental intertie agreement, emergency access and the monetary and nonmonetary benefits to West Linn.

As part of the proposed projects, West Linn could receive $350,000 worth of asbestos pipes replaced in the Robinwood neighborhood, $250,000 worth of road resurfacing along Mapleton and Kenthorpe, $90,000 in improvements in Mary S. Young State Park and $5 million for a license fee for the pipeline right of way. Associate Planner Zach Pelz also pointed out the benefit of having a completely redundant water supply.

‘Long and difficult’ process

Prior to the mayor’s misstep, the council was heading toward a 2-2 decision on the permits. The council’s fifth member, Thomas Frank, had recused himself from the hearings as he previously voted on the permits as a planning commissioner last year. If the vote is a tie, the planning commission’s denial would become final.

The mayor and councilors spoke passionately about their determinations, with Mayor John Kovash speaking at length in favor of the project along with Councilor Jody Carson. Council President Mike Jones spoke strongly against it along with Councilor Jenni Tan.

Both Kovash and Jones talked about the definition of “community” and “community benefit,” each with varying opinions.

“This is one of the most important and long-lasting decisions this council will make and will affect every person in the city,” Kovash said. “The process has been long and difficult.”

The mayor stressed the needs of the city’s water infrastructure and how the projects will benefit the city in replacing pipes and the Bolton Reservoir as well as providing emergency backup water.

“Keep in mind that without the LOT intertie all water coming into West Linn comes through one 24-inch pipe hanging on the 205 bridge. If you have seen the videos of that pipe vibrating, you know the concern,” he said.

Kovash and Carson said the applications met the city’s conditions of approval and did indeed provide community benefit not only to West Linn but also to surrounding communities.

“It will cause a lot of difficulties for people in the neighborhood,” Carson said. “I believe that the applicant has a plan that addresses those concerns.”

She also cited the need for water supply redundancies and the $5 million license fee that could go toward infrastructure.

Jones and Tan contended otherwise. Jones said the applications put an unfair greater burden on the Robinwood neighborhood for the benefit of the rest of the community.

“What is unique about these applications is that their primary benefit will not be to the citizens of West Linn,” Jones said. “This is unlike any CUP (conditional use permit) with which I have been involved.”

Jones also criticized Lake Oswego for its ongoing lawsuit against water plant neighbors condemning the area’s covenants, conditions and restrictions.

“I am confident that Lake Oswego would not have used this bludgeon on its own citizens so early in the process,” he said.

Tan said she would also uphold the planning commission’s decision, saying that more work should have been done and the burden the proposals implied could not be quantified.

In response to one of Jones’ statements, Kovash declared he had spoken with two representatives from neighborhood associations and they denied opposing the water plant applications. This admission by the mayor was considered new evidence and, in effect, invalidated the hearing.

Residents in the audience questioned whether Kovash purposely introduced new testimony, but in an interview after the meeting, Kovash asserted it was not his intention.

“It was a response to Mike, and I thought it was important to say that,” he said.

Based on that concern, Carson moved to reopen the public record for written testimony. New testimony will be accepted until 5 p.m. Feb. 4 and then LOT will have until 5 p.m. Feb. 8 to respond. The council will reconvene for deliberations Feb. 11.

Delay costly for LOT

If approved, the phased expansion of the plant is expected to begin this spring, and the entire project, including the pipeline, will be complete by early 2016. However, the extension of testimony may cause LOT to miss its first in-water work date at the river, which will cost LOT $500,000, according to LOT Communications Director Jane Heisler.

“All of this delay equates to dollars for us,” she said.

After resetting the meeting, Carson also moved to direct staff to draft a list of conditions of approval that LOT would need to agree with for the permits to be approved.

The conditions include:

1. Creating a mitigation response team to address concerns of the plant neighbors, especially in regard to those with health or physical limitations.

2. Modifying the intertie agreement so it cannot be terminated before 2041.

3. Ensuring traffic mitigation at the intersection of Nixon and Mapleton.

4. Modifying the fence line on the property to include breaks.

5. Further defining the $5 million right of way fee.

6. Compensating residents for their attorney fees associated with the condemnation process.

7. Developing a mitigation plan for the businesses along Highway 43.

8. Defining severe penalties for violating the construction management plan.

9. Ensuring the 24/7 hotline is answered by a person of authority, not just an answering system.

According to Heisler, the plan already addresses some of these conditions and there may be concerns about others. She said the condemnation process is a confidential and separate issue and should not be tied to the CUPs, and there may be concern about reworking the intertie agreement.

Some residents questioned the merit of the added conditions of approval.

“How do any of the conditions of approval suggested last night correct the numerous code violations the planning commission cited?” asked West Linn resident Dave Froode, who is also the managing partner of STOP, a group opposing the permits. “Essentially for the right amount of money, the city of West Linn seems willing to allow code violations to be ignored.”

At this point, Heisler said she did not know if LOT would appeal to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals if the planning commission’s denial stands or if the council denies the applications.

“We’d have to look at the findings,” she said. “I just don’t know. At this point it is up to the city council.”



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