The Blue Heron Paper Mill is under a new owner who has spent time in prison, but what does this mean for Oregon City and its plans to give the public access to the rich cultural and historic treasures next to Willamette Falls?

Before a development company called Megarock paid $2.2 million in bankruptcy court this month, worried local officials tried to stage a bidding war, but they couldn’t raise the funding for an 11th-hour attempt on this important 23-acre property right on the edge of downtown.

So far, City Manager David Frasher likes what he’s hearing from the new owner, but he admits this is an unusual process.

“I’m feeling very positive about the work we’re going to be able to do,” Frasher said. “Excited as people are, they do have questions.”

City staff didn’t know much about developer George Heidgerken when he purchased the property — first meeting with him after the fact. According to online court records, Heidgerken has dealt with several federal tax liens over the years and faced federal charges back in 1993 for illegal storage and transport of hazardous materials — charges that lead to a sentence of five months in prison.

“I had heard that, and of course naturally one of our principal goals on the site is healthy habitat,” Frasher said. “We all make mistakes, and that was many years ago, and the regulations today are I think much more clear and more strict, and so we’ll be making sure there is compliance on the site.”

KOIN Local 6 reached out to Heidgerken, but its call wasn’t returned. In an interview with The Olympian a few years ago, he addressed the federal charges, saying they were for moving barrels of paint and stain he was using on log homes he was building.

Also calling around to some other communities where he has projects in the works, KOIN Local 6 heard nothing but positive reviews about how he’s willing to take on challenging projects and consider community input.

“This is a really critical thing to have an owner that’s receptive and willing to have these discussions,” Frasher said.

With $600,000 dollars of public money already invested in this site, and $5 million more dollars pledged, the public will be watching.

Charting the future

What has not changed with a new owner is Oregon City’s commitment to realize the vision that thousands of Oregonians have helped create.

The city hopes to move forward with public hearings in late summer/early fall for a Framework Master Plan. Everything from hotels to health clubs, museums to markets, offices to light-industrial buildings could be built. But developers will have to reflect and respect the site’s natural setting and industrial history, and city officials say creating an amenity that respects the nationally-significant history.

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