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State issues violations to St. Helens over rogue disc golf ditch

Lack of action would result in $2,000 fine for the city


SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - A roughly 70-foot long ditch created in McCormick Park on the disc golf course was refilled by city staff last week. Thad Houk, parks supervisor for the Public Works Department, said he will likely replant vegetation in the area when the ground is not so muddy.An improperly excavated and unauthorized ditch in McCormick Park was refilled in late April after state officials determined the ditch violated state regulations and could adversely affect salmonoid habitat in McNulty Creek.

During an inspection April 20, Richard Fitzgerald, the aquatic resource coordinator and manager for the Oregon Department of State Lands, determined the outlet of the ditch would affect essential salmonid habitat in the area, the main cause for concern.

Salmonids are a family of fish that includes salmon, trout and greylings, which are sensitive to the introduction of fine sediment in the water, Fitzgerald explained.

Normally, DSL has jurisdiction over the removal of soils greater that 50 cubic yards in protected areas like wetlands. While the affected area of McCormick Park is not classified as a wetland, the ditch emptied into McNulty Creek below the ordinary high water line, which falls under DSL jurisdiction.

“In this case, a ditch could deliver material that naturally wouldn’t go,” Fitzgerald said. “We’d like to prevent that from happening.”

Fitzgerald said he also noticed soil disturbance in the area from the removal of fallen tree limbs, but did not

see that as a violation of state regulations.

The ditch was created near the 12th hole of the disc golf course in McCormick Park in early January. An area of the course was flooded and covered in tree debris after severe storms in December.

Several golfers asked for the debris to be cleaned, but after city staff said cleanup would have to wait for dry weather, several individuals brought in trucks and equipment to do the work themselves, which was unauthorized. City staff inspected the damage in late May.

After April’s inspection, the ditch was refilled by Thad Houk, parks supervisor for the Public Works Department.

DSL sent a proposed consent agreement to the city late last week outlining terms and conditions the city must meet to remedy the violation. The documents state the ditch must be refilled, the area must be reseeded or replanted with native vegetation, and repairs must be photographed and documented once complete. The document also outlines a $2,000 civil penalty the city would pay if the corrective actions are not taken.

City staff could not determine a dollar amount for the repairs, but Houk said it took him roughly an hour to do the work. With the ground still too muddy, Houk explained replanting vegetation will have to wait.

Several men playing on the course Tuesday said they didn’t know the ditch-digging and tree removal was not permitted when it happened. Gunnar Gartman and Ben Gross, both avid disc golf players and St. Helens residents, said the severe storm damage affected their ability to play the whole course, including the 12th hole, but said they didn’t notice a huge difference when the ditch was created or refilled.

Graichen included a brief report about the incident for the St. Helens city councilors to review during a work session Wednesday, but made no formal presentation. Graichen explained that many councilors, like Doug Morten, council chair and parks commission liaison, were already informed about the issue.