City of Tigard responds to neighbors' outcry over drained pond, breached dam

TIGARD - City officials gave an explanation this week as to why they decided to remove a decades-old beaver dam from Summer Creek earlier this month.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, city officials also heard from several upset neighbors who say that the city's removal of the dam drained Merestone Pond.

The city drew attention from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife two weeks ago after it removed a beaver dam without notifying state officials first.

Wildlife officials said they were investigating if the city broke state laws and guidelines by removing the dam out of season and impacting the wildlife and fish in the area.

According to Assistant Public Works Director Brian Rager, the city was well within its rights to remove the dam but admitted that the situation could have been handled better.

'We could have done a better job notifying the neighborhood that we were going to do this,' Rager said, adding that the city would work more closely with ODFW in the future so the agency is aware of possible problems with beaver dams.

Tigard Mayor Craig Dirksen agreed, saying the city should have told neighbors before the dam was removed.

'We could have done a better job,' he said. 'We can always strive to do better than we did the last time.'

Tigard has a hands-off policy about wildlife such as beavers, Rager said, unless the animals threaten city infrastructure.

'Tigard is one of the few cities in the area that allows beavers to build dams inside city,' he said. 'It's tricky to allow wildlife in this urban environment, and there are some tradeoffs…but our recommendation is to continue our hands-off approach and let them alone unless they are causing problems.'

Beavers don't use tarps

Rager told the City Council and a room of about 20 upset neighbors on Tuesday that the beaver dam had breached months before the city ever took action.

The breached dam drained the majority of the pond in April and May, Rager said, and the beavers had moved on to a new dam upstream.

City workers found a portion of the dam was being rebuilt by concerned neighbors who were trying to re-flood the creek in an attempt to bring the pond back, Rager said.

'Merestone pond has been around a long time, and the beaver dam has been there over 20 years,' Rager said. 'It's understandable that people would want their pond back, but we were finding materials that beaver's don't often use to repair their dams with. Tarps, pallets, firewood, things like that.'

The destroyed dam, as well as some of the human-made dam, was beginning to clog a culvert underneath Southwest 121st Avenue and action needed to be taken, he said.

'It was clear that the beavers were not repairing the dam and what was left was becoming a pile of debris that was threatening to clog the culvert,' Rager said.

State guidelines state that in-water work should only be done after July 15, but Rager said that the breached dam was an immediate risk that needed to be addressed.

Wilson says pond will return

Many who attended Tuesday's meeting said they weren't buying the city's reasoning.

'The firewood you saw in the dam that looked man-made? Those were my logs,' said Carrie Hanson who lives near the pond. Hansen said that beavers had taken firewood that she had left near the pond to use in their dam.

'What you thought was manmade was actually the beavers repairing their dam,' she said. 'It's amazing what beavers will use.'

The city removed the dam before for similar reasons in 2001. At that time neighbors - including current City Councilor Nick Wilson - were upset that the city had removed the dam unjustly.

'I wasn't on the council back then but I was upset like you are,' Wilson told the group of neighbors.

Wilson, who lived for many years near Merestone Pond, said that in time the beavers returned and re-built their dam and the pond came back.

'You're here because you're upset,' he said. 'Let me just tell you, at that time I was surprised how fast the beavers did do their work and the pond began to rise again.'

Wilson said that the city allows the beavers in the city, but can't allow them to clog culverts and cause problems.

'All of us appreciate wildlife,' he said. 'We have to balance wildlife with urban concerns, and we're doing our best to do that.

'We're used to thinking of natural systems as being static and they're not,' he said. 'These things happen. I don't know if we could have done anything different and I don't know that you would have liked the outcome anymore, but I ask you to be patient and it will probably take less time than you think for the pond to come back.'

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