Many years ago, while directing the development and operations of the John Inskeep Environmental Learning Center in Oregon City, I had the opportunity to meet John Gray.
We met when he invited our "Enviro Trekking Tour" students — primarily teachers — to his new operations at Sun River, in Central Oregon. At this site, he dedicated the first building, the "Nature Center," which would guide the development. This man - a graduate with business degrees from Oregon State University and Harvard, took the time to talk to us about his life as an industrialist and his interest in being Oregon's "environmental developer."
Mr. Gray owned Oregon Chain Saw Company (Omark Industries), which is now Blount International. Then, in the 1950s he sought to showcase the best of Oregon through quality development.
His other projects include Salishan (the conversion of dairy lands on the Oregon Coast) and Scamania Lodge on the Columbia River Gorge to the condominiums, townhouses and destination resorts at spectacular sites.
Redevelopment of terribly degraded lands along the Willamette River was his specialty. We know those lands, today, as John's Landing, overlooking Ross Island. Senator Mark O. Hatfield lived out much of his life on those redeveloped industrial lands that Gray made possible for habitation through beautifully integrated townhouses and condominiums. Hatfield used to comment on "watching the logging operations of bald eagles and herons as they build their nests." What does all this have to do with Clackamette Cove in Oregon City?
The Cove, some 100 acres of land and water, was a major industrial site for nearly half a century and supported the local economy and major infrastructure in downtown Portland.
Like John's Landing, Cove lands were degraded, needing serious rehabilitation. In the early 2000s, Oregon City's Urban Renewal Agency bought the property seeking opportunities to convert the gravel-quarrying operation to benefit the city's North End district. Their wisdom, put into force, a long and tenuous path that though some would desire quick results would in fact, as Gray so often did, require careful planning and execution.
There are no easy ways to redevelop an industrial site that had mining operations, asphalt and concrete plants and many related industrial uses. Oregon City's Cove project is directly linked to the Clackamas River and its ecosystems. It is in a flood zone wherein floods can raise the Willamette and Clackamas rivers 50 feet higher than normal. Just like Gray's John's Landing project, any redevelopment must consider all of those factors in an alphabet soup of local, state and federal agency oversight. Ever heard of NOAA, USF&W, EPA, ODOT, OSLD or Metro? These are but a few of the modern regulatory agencies that began in infancy when John Gray was doing his work. Why is this important? Only the right developers will achieve results.
Oregon City looked at many developers initially. Ultimately two very qualified developers, Clackamette Cove LLC and Grand Peaks Development, were chosen to execute this difficult project. Clackamette Cove LLC has produced over 100 successful projects throughout the Northwest that showcase people and wildlife while providing economic vitality. Grand Peaks Development, named for Colorado beauty, created much of the hilltop improvements by West Linn's City Hall. Both these companies have interfaced with very difficult sites.
Clackamette Cove and its parent organization Pacific Property Search took on major redevelopment of a former cement plant in Lake Oswego. It is called Oswego Pointe and boasts over 400 residential units tucked seamlessly into the environment by the river. The adjoining "Foothills Park" is a partnership between that developer and the city and is one of the most beautiful riverside parks in Oregon. My research shows that Sen. Mark O. Hatfield dedicated that site with General Miller from the Governor's Office, due to its foresightedness and accomplishments.
Being a quarry is one thing, but being down gradient from two of Oregon's worst landfills is even worse. But both these companies are more than capable of producing a product of beauty, sensibility and economic benefit to this region.
So here I am "an environmentalist" supporting economic development. Why shouldn't I? Why shouldn't we?
John Gray did it as an industrialist and then "practical environmentalist."
There are many lands in and around our state that need serious help. The city of Oregon City is doing the right thing in pursuing the redevelopment of the Cove's former industrial lands. It takes time. There are serious challenges. But the results will be like that of John Gray, where people, wildlife and economic development all stand as equals.
Jerry Herrmann leads Rivers of Life Center, youth education and training corporation that seeks sensible solutions to difficult environmental problems.