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Sale saves Bull Run powerhouse, school and Roslyn Lake rec site

by: Jim Hart, Two of the four massive generators, powered by the flow of water, are seen from the catwalk inside the huge generator room.

It's a done deal. A coalition of three private parties with the ability to borrow money has purchased the Bull Run Powerhouse, Bull Run Elementary School and the Roslyn Lake recreation area from Portland General Electric.

The trio (Jeff Joslin, Rick Michaelson and Karen Karlsson) formed an LLC they are calling Powerhouse Re Gen.

Their purpose can be stated in a single word: preservation.

'We're just three folks trying to save the powerhouse,' Joslin said. 'This is not some deep-pocketed development venture. There is no business model here. We took personal (financial) risk to stop PGE's wrecking ball.'

In the future, Joslin says they have plans to change their LLC into a nonprofit organization.

Joslin says the trio of professional planners has been involved in other preservation efforts over a number of years.

The Bull Run Powerhouse is eligible to be placed on the national register of historic places, Joslin said, while the old school is historically significant in the area.

Remote elephant center

The other site, the Roslyn Lake recreation area, isn't as historically significant, although local residents have spent many relaxing hours in the picnic area alongside the lake, which was drained in 2007.

In the past couple of years, the Oregon Zoo has been eyeing the Roslyn Lake site and would like to purchase it for a remote elephant center.

But zoo officials say they aren't interested in the recreation area or its facilities; instead, their interest lies mainly in the dry lake bed and the area to the west - nearly 250 acres.

In fact, Craig Stroud, Oregon Zoo Bond program director, said the two separate operations would be compatible side-by-side.

But the zoo has only purchased an option on the property, which expires in about 18 months. If an offer is extended on the land, payment would come from a bond Stroud manages.

In the meantime and before making an offer on the land, zoo staff are trying to determine how they can realistically afford the approximately $1 million annual cost of remote center operations.

Powerhouse restoration

The Powerhouse Re Gen purchase has been official for barely four months, and restoration efforts have been ongoing at the powerhouse.

But the acquisition process, which took about four years, was not simple. Besides the negotiations with PGE, the buyers had to satisfy the rules of the Public Utility Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

They also have been battling vandals bent on fighting the efforts of the preservationists.

Not only did vandals enter and ransack the powerhouse shop area, they also have been throwing rocks at the powerhouse's old-style windows, which are expensive to replace. In addition, someone tried to bulldoze the school by driving a truck into its front door, inflicting severe damage to the school's door and wall. They've also tagged and broken into buildings at the recreation site.

But the three restorers are continuing their work toward a goal, which eventually would include interpretive activities to educate people about the historic significance of the sites.

'We're now working to clean up and secure (the powerhouse),' Joslin said. 'We're also trying to figure out what purposes these facilities will serve in the future.'

County rules affect parcel shape

Joslin considers the school a historic site, but still wants to preserve the recreation area for its historic value.

'The powerhouse and the school,' he said, 'were designated by the county as landmarks.'

But he admitted another reason for that purchase, which included meeting the resale rules imposed by Clackamas County.

The county has a minimum lot size for resale, and to meet that size, the powerhouse land had to be physically attached to other PGE land to create a new single parcel of land that met the minimum size.

'The powerhouse had to tie in with additional land,' Joslin said, 'to achieve that minimum lot size.'

To meet that requirement, the buyers had to join powerhouse land to the narrow strip that formerly transported water from the powerhouse to the lake, connecting that strip to the recreation site.

That means the powerhouse land, recreation site and the strip joining them are all included in one 'extremely odd-shaped parcel,' Joslin said.

'For the county,' he said, 'the shape of the parcel didn't matter, but just if it met the minimum size.'

Bull Run's future

The future is indefinite for the properties that Powerhouse Re Gen is trying to preserve, according to Joslin. A quick effort was made to stop PGE's planned demolition, and now it is time to consider the future.

'We are all constantly looking for that crystal ball,' he said. 'It's a pretty big mystery. We have always thought the powerhouse needs to be available to the public to tell the story of an incredible feat of construction that eventually had to be decommissioned to return the river to fish.'

A survey of the community confirmed the importance of keeping a memory of the school and Roslyn Lake.

'We share in that goal,' Joslin said, 'and it's our hope to deep talking to and working with folks in the community to figure out what those uses are. The future is vague now, but it's early.'

The group is now planning a 100th anniversary celebration in September (likely around Sept. 29) for the powerhouse, which started generating power in 1912.

Joslin and his partners are looking for historical stories about what happened there over the years.

For more information about Powerhouse Re Gen and its goals, visit SaveBullRun.org.