Projects were deemed not a benefit to West Linn

by: FILE PHOTO - Lake Oswego has operated a water treatment plant in West Linn for decades. Tigard and Lake Oswego hope to expand the plant as part of a 2008 water agreement between the two cities, but West Linn planning comissioners said Thursday they could find no benefit to West Linn to allow the expansion.Residents in West Linn experienced a major win Thursday night when the West Linn Planning Commission unanimously denied two proposed projects for expanding Lake Oswego's water treatment plant.

After three nights of hearing hours of public testimony against a proposed water treatment plant expansion and the installation of a new water pipeline through West Linn, the planning commission voted to reject the projects, saying they did not benefit the community.

That win may be short-lived, however, if the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership (LOT) appeals the planning commission's decision to the West Linn City Council.

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 wants to expand the plant and run a new pipeline to address the future water needs of both cities under the water partnership.

The proposed projects were years in the making. The documentation is several feet deep. And the emotions were high throughout the course of it all.

According to the proposal, the plant would hold up to 2 million stored gallons of water underground and handle up to 38 million gallons each day. The facility currently serves as an emergency backup water supply for West Linn.

The project also involved the installation of a 4-foot-diameter 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.

During the Thursday meeting, commissioners heard a 20-minute rebuttal from LOT and then proceeded to ask questions of LOT representatives and experts as well as city staff.

During rebuttal, Tigard Public Works Director Dennis Koellermeier said LOT 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.

However, the one criterion in West Linn's community development code that hung up the planning commission states: "The granting of the proposal will provide for a facility that is consistent with the overall needs of the community."

LOT 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, safe and reliable infrastructure, and improvements to Mary S. Young State Park. However, the biggest benefit listed by LOT centered around a renewed intergovernmental agreement with Tigard, Lake Oswego and West Linn that would provide West Linn emergency water through the year 2041. Commissioners found this benefit temporary and not worth the three years of construction in the city.

"We believe it is time for a decision. The opponents clearly don't want this project. We don't think more time will change that," Koellermeier told the commissioners. "It's time to make a decision. We think it should be based on the code."

Commissioners proceeded to ask about seismic safety, hazard insurance for residents, the IGA, alternative plant locations and pipeline routes, franchise fees, development in the Stafford area, construction on Highway 43, traffic, the effect on businesses, safety, noise, geologic hazards and construction hours.

In order to come to a resolution, Commissioner Robert Martin moved to push on late into the evening. "I'm tired of this. This is a stressful situation," he said.

The commission voted 4-3 to proceed with the meeting instead of continuing it to the following week.

The commissioners resoundingly thanked LOT for its thorough application and the residents for their tenacity. The commissioners also said it is time for West Linn to address its own water supply and infrastructure issues.

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

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

Commissioner Gail Holmes also said the intertie benefit was only temporary and expressed environmental concerns as well as concerns about safety and economic impact, saying many of West Linn businesses are already hanging on by a thread.

Though Planning Commission Chairman Michael Babbitt also voted against both projects, he admired Lake Oswego's dedication and determination.

"I admire Lake Oswego. You guys come up with a plan; you're proactive and you do everything you can possibly to implement it. And I really wish West Linn was more like Lake Oswego in that sense," Babbitt said.

The planning commission voted unanimously to deny both projects. It is likely LOT will appeal the decision to the city council, where the application process will be repeated. LOT has 14 days to appeal once the decision notice is mailed.

Resident Lamont King was pleased with the planning commission's decision. He said the process showed him 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.

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