West Linn Planning Commission rejects expansion, pipeline

Residents in West Linn scored a major victory in their fight to stop a Tigard water treatment plant from being expanded in West Linn.

Tigard city officials have been working with Lake Oswego since 2008 to develop a joint water system between the two cities, giving Tigard access to water for the first time.

Those plans call for expanding Lake Oswego’s water treatment plant located in West Linn and installing a new water pipeline from the plant to Lake Oswego and Tigard.

But the West Linn Planning Commission denied plans to expand the plant Thursday, Nov. 1, saying city officials could not find any benefit to West Linn.

“The bottom line is the community has spoken loudly and clearly for us to consider how emphatic they are that this is not a benefit to them, to not abandon them in their hour of need,” Commissioner Holly Miller said.

The expansion would double the amount of water treated at the plant each day, handling up to 38 million gallons each day for Tigard, Lake Oswego, Bull Mountain, Durham and King City, as well as provide an emergency backup water supply for West Linn.

Tigard Public Works Director Dennis Koellermeier said he was very surprised by the commission’s decision. He could not understand how the seven-member committee came to its decision.

“I was dumbfounded,” he said. “Some of the arguments they raised were not understandable.”

What’s next?

Koellermeier said the Tigard-Lake Oswego Water Partnership would likely appeal the decision to the West Linn City Council.

The water partnership has 14 days to appeal the Planning Commission’s ruling.

“We need to spend some time looking at the findings of the Planning Commission and see what we need to emphasize on with the council,” he said.

If the City Council sides with the Planning Commission, Koellermeier said there are other options than expanding the water treatment plant in West Linn. However, those options were costlier.

“This (water treatment plant expansion) is the best solution for citizens of Tigard and Lake Oswego,” Koellermeier said. “There are other options, and this is the best one. I think this is the way to go.”

Neighbors near the plant fought a years-long campaign against the expansion, testifying before the Planning Commission that it would reduce property values, increase the risk of flooding and burst pipes, among other concerns.

It was these concerns that led the commission to deny the expansion, which Koellermeier said should not have been considered.

“They talked a lot about not abandoning the neighborhood and overwhelming neighborhood dissatisfaction, but that’s not approval criteria,” Koellermeier said.

At last week’s meeting, Koellermeier told commissioners the partnership has continually gone above and beyond what is required by the city’s code, including two years’ worth of neighborhood meetings, consolidating the plant site design, reducing noise and glare at the plant, providing amenities for the neighborhood and phasing construction to reduce traffic.

“We went the extra mile with this design. We demonstrated good faith,” he said.

No benefit

One criterion in West Linn’s community development code states the proposal must benefit the community. Planning commissioners said they could not find any benefits to the community in the expansion plans.

Koellermeier listed a number of benefits the expansion and pipeline would bring to West Linn, including street improvements, replacement of a section of asbestos cement waterline, installing safe and reliable infrastructure and improvements to a local park, which the pipeline would run through.

The biggest benefit would provide West Linn emergency water through the year 2041, Koellermeier said. Commissioners said this benefit was temporary and not worth three years of construction.

“I can’t begin to see how they came to that conclusion,” Koellermeier said. “All the evidence went the other way.”

West Linn planning commissioners said the city needs improvements to its water system and tackle the issues on its own.

“I’d rather see us buck up and take care of our own water infrastructure,” Commissioner Russell Axelrod said.

West Linn resident Lamont King said the commission’s decision showed that the commissioners really did read what they were given, processed it and listened to the residents.

“It tells me that this project really does not belong in West Linn,” King said.

Koellermeier said many of the neighbors were against the plant expansion from the beginning and would not have been satisfied with anything Tigard and Lake Oswego offered.

“We did everything we could to work with neighbors,” he said. “They were organized and had some pretty loud leadership, and they swayed the Planning Commission. Whether that was right or wrong, I’ll let somebody else decide, but I think it was wrong.”

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