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Logging companies blanch at Gourley Creek timber harvest

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Due to a lack of financial resources that would have been generated by the Gourlay Creek Timber sale, the City of Scappoose may have to implement mandatory water conservation measures during the summer that would include restrictions on lawn watering. The Scappoose City Council recently authorized a 33-acre tract of timber in the Gourlay Creek Watershed for clear-cutting and sale. The city had planned to use the estimated $440,000 the timber sale would generate to postpone water rate increases.

But now the city may not see any of that money until next year. And, as a result, Scappoose residents could face increased water rates and forced conservation measures this summer.

In late May, the city issued a request for bids to find a lumber company willing to cut the timber within the Gourlay Creek tract. The bid closed June 3 with no offers.

Now, the city is entering the 2013-2014 fiscal year with a $440,000 budget hole — money that was supposed to have been added to the city’s water fund.

Scappoose City Manager Jon Hanken said the deficit will potentially postpone work on the city’s water system, which may cause issues in regard to providing adequate amounts of water during the summer.

“We may not be able to meet demand,” Hanken said. “There’s a chance we may have to implement mandatory water conservation measures... I’m hoping that doesn’t happen.”

Hanken said city staff had proposed a water rate increase of $15 per meter per month since 2009, which would backfill the $440,000 gap throughout the fiscal year. Hanken said the council has been reluctant to move forward with the rate increase, however.

The city plans to re-advertise the timber sale for this calendar year, but it may be too late to find a logging company willing to take the job. The other option is to bid the sale out to January 2014.

Jay Worley, Scappoose’s city forester, met with city staff to discuss why no bids were made on the Gourlay Creek tract. One of Worley’s concerns was that log prices could take a significant drop in value before prospective logging companies would be able to sell their harvest. Since the city’s proposal was for a cash-up-front deal, prospective bidders may have been driven away by the chance of losing a significant amount of money.

Worley added that logging companies largely have their projects scheduled for the season at this point and the city may have advertised its bid too late. This, along with the project’s short time line — stipulating that the project be completed by October to protect water quality before heavy rains — may have been a deterrent.

Hanken said the city has a lot of water projects in need of attention, but the city has no room in the budget to address them. “The Dutch Canyon well needs work,” he said. “Well production is down by almost half. We can’t do work with no revenue.”

Hanken highlighted 60- to 70-year-old water pipes that need replacement, dam sediment removal and dam repair as major issues with the water system.

The Scappoose Public Works Advisory Committee is scheduled to address the prospect of a $15 water rate increase at its June 25 meeting in the council chambers of City Hall at 7 p.m.

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