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Under siege


Residents pass the halfway mark for construction of water plant in their West Linn neighborhood

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - It's been two years since Robinwood neighbors began living near a major industrial construction project, an experience that has sometimes brought the City at odds with its own residents. No one who lives on Mapleton Drive has any illusions of winning the battle.

After years of opposition, petitions, legal filings and concessions — and still nearly two years out from completion of a major industrial construction project in their tree-filled neighborhood — they just want to be able to say they survived the war.

“I’m feeling pretty bruised about the whole thing,” says Yvonne Davis, a 25-year resident of Mapleton Drive, as she gazes around her house at the Post-It notes highlighting cracks on her walls and ceilings. “I was shocked when we had our big defeats. I was naive I guess; I thought the people of West Linn would help us. I thought someone in city hall would say ‘No, you can’t do that.’”

Mapleton and nearby Kenthorpe Way are midway through a multi-year $254 million “expansion” of a freshwater treatment plant built in their Robinwood neighborhood nearly 55 years ago. When it is finished in 2017 very little of the original plant will remain. The plant is owned by the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership (LOT) and when complete will pump an estimated 38 million gallons a day to those communities as well as provide emergency backup drinking water to West Linn.TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - When the construction is completed, LOT has agreed to landscape and leave open the areas bordering Mapleton Drive and a section along Kenthorpe Way as a buffer for neighbors.

Neighborhood interrupted

This fall was particularly hard on the residents of Mapleton Drive, as the neighborhood passed the second anniversary of active construction. Workers were digging large trenches for the pipe needed to carry water to its destinations, right down the already narrow and sidewalk-free neighborhood. Massive equipment lined the rights-of-way next to houses, gravel piles dotted the areas where kids normally walked to school and steel plates lined the road.

“My house has been shaking for three years and the constant stream of double dump trucks and diesel fumes...well, my quiet neighborhood has been seriously compromised with the net benefit questionable at best,” Jack Norby, a 19-year Kenthorpe Way resident, told the West Linn City Council this fall. His appearance was a familiar sight: neighbors coming to city hall with complaints of untenable living situations and violation of construction agreements.SUBMITTED PHOTO - Alleged violations of contruction agreements from contractors hired by LOT -- working past nighttime curfews, insufficient protections of neighboring properties -- has taken neighbors to the doors of city hall numerous times over the past two years.

For all this disruption, dirt, noise and chaos the city of West Linn received a $5 million payout from LOT, which is being used for its own water system with a rebuild of the aging Bolton Reservoir.

The neighbors have received nothing from LOT or their own city government, with the exception of 32 homeowners who were sued by LOT over using residential land for its expansion and received settlements of $4,000 each.

“When they (dump trucks) come down the street empty they pound and bang the whole way and when they are full it’s more of a massive vibration feeling. When they were pile-driving at the plant, lights in the houses were swinging and dishes were shaking in the cupboards,” says Shanon Vroman, longtime Mapleton homeowner. After more than two decades living on Mapleton, Vroman sold one of her homes last May and is renting out the other. “The construction crane was right above my house so anytime I was in my yard I was looking right at the operator and he's looking at me.” When LOT announced earlier this year that the construction project would take longer than estimated, Vroman filed a complaint to hold the company to its contract but the city’s legal advice was that the document’s wording regarding timeline was unenforceable. “In the end we weren’t saying ‘Go away’ so much as ‘Recognize the impact this has on our lives, our property’,” she adds. “I just want to get this thing over with.”TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Longtime Mapleton Drive resident Sharon Vroman owned a home so close to the plant construction its multi-story construction crane tower overlooked her backyard.

Working together?

A project of this size is bound to have challenges, according to LOT, but the organization says it’s gone out of its way to mitigate potential problems. Twice-monthly meetings are held so residents can talk with project managers, contractors and LOT representatives. The organization uses its website, social media and old-fashioned door knocking to communicate frequently with neighborhood residents, says Katy Fulton, LOT spokesperson.

“In terms of communication, the Partnership has consistently gone above and beyond what is required of us to help make sure the neighbors in West Linn are as informed as possible about the project,” she stated in an email. The organization has also given homeowners gift certificates for local businesses, car wash coupons and other perks to try and offset the livability impacts, Fulton says.

LOT project manager Joel Komarek points to the plant’s history — constructed in 1968 in a semi-rural pocket of then unincorporated Clackamas County — and says there seems to have always been a contingent of neighbors upset about its existence. TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - The original plant and administration building has been in West Linn since 1968.As for upgrades and expansions over the years, Komarek says that LOT was required to file facility plans with the city of West Linn, showing what the future was expected to hold, so no one should be surprised by the latest project.

The road to installation of the new plant and pipeline has been a roller coaster ride of challenges and victories. LOT owned four residential lots surrounding the old plant but neighborhood covenant, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) prevented industrial uses. The organization eventually used eminent domain rights to override the covenants. Then the West Linn Planning Commission denied the expansion application, but was ultimately overruled by the West Linn City Council when a new application was submitted. A lawsuit by some homeowners in the neighborhood protesting the eminent domain action was settled out of court. TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - When complete, the water plant will provide drinking water to the communities of Lake Oswego and Tigard.

The new plant is expected to nearly double the capacity of Clackamas River water that can be drawn and treated every day. It will be seismically sound and add ozone technology to filter the water rather than solely the chemically-based direct filtration method currently used. Two wastewater lagoons will be repurposed as overflow basins but the majority of the plant — including the 47-year-old administration building — will be brand new.

Devil in the details

Before the project began in earnest LOT developed a “Good Neighbor Plan,” based on discussions with Robinwood residents and the city, outlining rules for things like hours of operation, where equipment would be placed, safety precautions and other livability/construction conflicts. It’s those rules that are consistently broken by LOT’s contractors, some neighbors say, with little support from the city of West Linn until recently.

“No one who should have been paying attention bothered to make it (conditions of approval) bulletproof for West Linn,” says Davis. “Once the city approved the project, city staff just moved on... We’ve been operating from a position of weakness ever since the project was approved. A lot of things they said they’d do to make it easier for the neighborhood sort of disappeared.”

West Linn City Councilors Jenni Tan and Brenda Perry have been functioning as liaisons between the council and neighbors for much of this year, attending meetings with LOT and hearing concerns from neighbors.

“You can look at diagrams and maps but until you’re onsite it’s hard to visualize (the project’s impact on the neighborhood),” says Perry. “I share their frustrations, hearing one thing from LOT then finding out they’ve done another.” Had she been on council when the project was presented she would not have approved it, Perry says.

Yet, things are looking a bit better in recent months, Perry and neighbors agree. The City has been watching the project more closely, talking with neighbors and sitting down with project managers. After Interim City Manager Don Otterman arrived in August he took on oversight of LOT’s project early on. COURTESTY LOT - LOT has included extensive landscaping in its plan for the new water plant, after logging hundreds to trees to allow for the construction.

“Prior to me I don’t know exactly how it was handled but we were getting enough complaints that they (LOT) now have to come through me (to request variances to the construction agreement),” says Otterman. “I don’t want them thinking they can do whatever they want outside the conditions of approval with no ramifications. I’ve made it abundantly clear to them that I’m more than willing to have the police department issue citations.”

On Jan. 12 LOT representatives were notified that an afterwork inspection of the site found several violations of the construction management plan requirements, including a failure to limit the length of the construction zone and removing equipment from the roadway after work hours. A follow-up inspection the next day found the issues corrected.

While residents are encouraged to see more advocacy from city hall, they are still looking at another 18 months or so of construction before they have their neighborhood back.

“We’re pretty beaten down at this point,” says Vroman. “If we didn’t have each other we’d be a mess. We just want our lives back but we can’t. It won’t let us.” COURTESY LOT - This 'native rain garden' will be added to the Kenthrope Drive side of the water plant site, as part of the planned improvements.

Davis worries that those outside the neighborhood, people who’ve never seen the disruption and impacts, have dismissed homeowners on Mapleton and Kenthorpe as NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) “crybabies.”

“I don’t think we’re being unreasonable,” says Vroman. “We’re educated, thoughtful people just trying to protect our way of life, our property and our neighbors who can’t protect themselves.”

Perry, for one, feels certain the tide has shifted.

“When the city takes a stand, things change,” says Perry. “We get different results.”

Contact Leslie Pugmire Hole at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-636-1281, ext. 103.