Council talks to Robinwood neighbors about water treatment plant

Robinwood residents finally got to speak their minds about the Lake Oswego-Tigard (LOT) water treatment plant facility. The proposed water plant expansion in the Robinwood neighborhood aims to address future needs for both the cities of Lake Oswego and Tigard.

Removing the gag that the city council has imposed for the last year, a group of neighborhood representatives addressed the city council during its June 18 work session. The overlaying feeling of the evening was frustration, both on the side of the residents as well as on the city council's side.

In an effort to avoid bias, under advice from Tim Ramis, one of the city's contracted attorneys, the council had been advised to not speak or listen to residents' opinions on the matter under ex parte communication because the council may have to decide on the land use application if it is appealed at the planning commission level.

Ex parte communication is defined as when a judge (in this case, the city council) interacts with a party (residents) about a case without other parties' (LOT) knowledge. This ensures a fair court process and that everyone involved has the same information. Under attorney advice, the council took it a step further, however, and prevented any exchange of information from residents that contained opinions both on and off the record in fear of the council appearing biased.

Some have questioned Ramis' intentions as he also represents the city of Tigard, a partner in the water plant.

'The critical issue is ensuring the council can remain impartial,' Assistant City Manager Kirsten Wyatt said. 'Some attorneys believe that the best way to do that is for decision-makers to have essentially no contact with opponents or proponents. Other attorneys believe that decision-makers can have contact with opponents or proponents, provided that all correspondence is on the record.'

During the June 11 regular city council meeting, a number of residents showed up to speak during public comments. Mayor John Kovash asked the residents to wait until the work session to speak to avoid possible bias issues. Several residents still attempted to speak their minds and in the process, a city attorney shut down three of them from proceeding.

In frustration, resident Roberta Schwarz said, 'I've never seen 20 people stymied the way they have been tonight. They can't speak to you about what is occurring in their lives right now. How dare you tell them they can't speak until next Monday? How dare you do this? This is not transparent. Shame on you.'

However, on Monday night at the work session, attorney Chris Crean, with Beery, Elsner and Hammond, redefined ex parte communication, stating that the council could indeed hear from the community as long as it was on the record and LOT had access to those records.

Crean and his firm specialize in land use and are assigned to deal with all LOT proceedings, not Ramis and his firm. Therefore, the city attempts to have the appropriate attorneys in attendance when particular issues are discussed.

Robinwood resident Lamont King, who also serves on the Robinwood Neighborhood Association's Great Neighbor Committee, has expressed continued frustration at the lack of communication with the city and its staff.

'We have been blocked from communicating with our staff and our city. Ex parte has been used to block us from reaching out to the city council. All of this time we've spent trying to get meaningful dialogue with the city has been thwarted.'

Residents of the Robinwood neighborhood have been actively fighting a proposed water treatment plant expansion for more than a year now.

Lake Oswego has operated a water treatment plant between Kenthorpe Way and Mapleton Drive in West Linn's Robinwood neighborhood since 1968. In cooperation with the city of Tigard, Lake Oswego now 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 three 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.

The project also involves the installation of a four-foot-wide pipeline from the Clackamas River, through a portion of Mary S. Young State Park, to the water treatment plant and then down Highway 43 toward Lake Oswego.

If approved, the phased expansion of the plant is expected to begin in spring 2013, and the entire project, including the pipeline, will be complete in fall 2015, with a total construction period of two and a half years.

West Linn residents have continually expressed concern about the plant expansion and pipeline installation. Residents have cited concerns about years of disruption, reduced property values, noise, light, construction traffic, risk of flooding and burst pipes, chemicals and the appropriateness of the site.

LOT officials initially wanted to separate the plant and pipeline applications to expedite the process and start construction on the plant expansion. But, after hearing from the planning commission and the community, LOT asked the commission to hear the two applications together. The proposals are now on hold until the pipeline application can be submitted and reviewed.

Although West Linn residents have continually gone to the city council about the plant expansion, its plan currently remains at the planning commission level unless the planning commission approves the plan and someone appeals the decision.

'Right now, the plan is in front of the planning commission, not the council,' Crean said.

When he was finally allowed to speak to the council, former mayor Norm King spoke about the 7,700 trucks that would be traveling up and down the small residential roads, safety, the appropriateness of the site, the questionable benefit of the intertie and whether the plant would serve the Stafford triangle in the future.

'It's going to have a huge impact on all of our city and no benefit to us,' King said.

Resident Vicky Smith questioned a possible conflict of interest on the city's part because it too owns a piece of property near the water treatment plant. She talked about the struggle of the residents trying to fight a large city like Lake Oswego.

'They are bringing a gun to a battle that no one else has,' she said. 'It's an uneven playing field.'

Robinwood Neighborhood Association President David Newell said, 'It saddens me personally that we've gotten to this point. We still want to talk. There is still time to work this out.'

Newell stressed the need for mitigation with LOT for the neighbors, especially in the area of hazard insurance.

'We can be good neighbors. This process is not what a good neighbor inflicts onto another,' Newell said. 'It's hard to beat off tanks and planes with nothing but pointed sticks.'

Newell went even further and asked the entire city council to recuse itself from the issue so the members could advocate for residents. However, Crean advised against it.

'You were elected to make hard decisions; this clearly is one,' Crean said.

'I've been reluctant to get involved in this project at all. I didn't want to be seen as an old mayor itching to get back into the mix,' King said, stating that he strongly opposed the project.

'I think it's unconscionable what it has done to the people of Robinwood for the sake of greed. Lake Oswego doesn't need the water. Lake Oswego has treated the residents of Robinwood like crap. LOT has a schedule and they don't care who they run over. It will be a long inconvenience, all for Lake Oswego's greed.'

He accused the city of hiding behind code and betraying citizens.

'How dare you put our future water at risk,' he said.

City councilor Mike Jones responded to an allegation that the city staff, the city manager and the council were all in support of the water treatment plant expansion.

'The council has made many efforts over many months to make this process work. We've put hours and hours into this. The key to that is we want a fair process,' Jones said.

'I would like to move forward and make things better and hopefully Lake Oswego wants the same thing,' Kovash said.

Councilors Jody Carson, Teri Cummings and Jenni Tan all said they have been frustrated with the process.

'As much as possible, I want to remain neutral on this matter. I think the process has been abysmal. The role the council has been in the last six months sucks,' Jones said.

'It's clear we're all frustrated,' Kovash said. 'Hopefully we are going to get a heck of a lot better.'

Councilors also apologized to the residents about the process.

'This is our first meeting with you, and I'm sorry,' Cummings said. 'I think we all deserve to know what's going on, and we all deserve equal access.'

In a phone interview, Jones said, 'In my mind, LOT could have done a much better job dealing with those people affected by the plant. ... The Lake Oswego and Tigard city councils, instead of proactively dealing with the issues, have basically dumped this issue into West Linn City Council's lap.'

Moving forward in communicating with the residents, two tentative meetings are slated. The first will be held between Robinwood residents and a facilitator June 27 at West Linn Lutheran Church at 6 p.m. The second meeting will include the facilitator, residents and LOT on both July 11 and July 25 at West Linn Lutheran Church at 6 p.m. The church is located at 20390 Willamette Falls Drive.

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