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'We must help businesses remain viable. We must have water and we must have sewer. Fix St. Helens first.'

FILE PHOTO - St. Helens City Hall. We were delighted to have friends we had not seen for a few years visit this past weekend. We have always kept in touch but did not actually meet. He was an attorney in St. Helens many years ago and she was a school teacher — both now retired.

These friends live in Northwest Portland, just on the cusp of Forest Park in a beautiful 100-plus-year-old home. They garden more since they have retired. We walked around our gardens — now put down for the winter. I told them we cannot keep our lawn green in the summer and water our vegetable and flower gardens at the same time because of the high water prices, nearly $400 for two months at one time in the summer months.

Then I told them about opening the Spotlight a couple of weeks ago to a headline reading, "St. Helens to increase water, sewer utility rates in 2018" — by 3.22 percent.

I then related when each property owner in St. Helens had to pay for a sewer line to their home about five years ago, supposedly to separate storm water from sewage water — and then our sewage rates went up.

A trip was made to show them the beautiful property on the river purchased from Boise White Paper by the taxpayers for $3 million and the high hopes people had for a park in that area. Now the City Council wants to use this land for condos and businesses.

Unfortunately, we then had to share with them that the property was also partnered with a carcinogenic, PCP-filled, toxic lagoon; and that the City of St. Helens has considered (and, as far as I know, are still considering) bringing poisonous waste from a Portland Superfund site and adding it to this lagoon with a liner of some sort to keep it from leaching into the river. This experiment is for the purpose of St. Helens taking Portland's poisonous sludge — being paid $50 million plus to do so — thus enabling St. Helens to build a new sewer plant. How long and how well do you think that plan will work?

I now have a copy of the sales agreement between the city of St. Helens and Boise White Paper for the Old Mill property. I can't even imagine anyone knowing about the toxicity on that land and signing away the citizens' rights to litigate the cost of cleanup.

And yet, page 8 reads: "PURCHASER UNDERSTANDS AND AGREES THE PREMISES ARE SOLD 'AS IS - WHERE IS' AND THAT SELLER MAKES NO REPRESENTATION OR WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, THAT THE PREMISES ARE FIT FOR ANY PARTICULAR USE OR PURPOSE."

It is signed by former St. Helens Mayor Randy Peterson.

Now that they are aging, our friends were considering selling their home and moving out of the city to a single-level home. Regrettably, they have now crossed St. Helens off their list.

Probably about a year ago I wrote about the number of businesses which have closed in St. Helens. Monday I made another accounting of this problem. Beginning on Columbia Boulevard, on the river side of the railroad tracks, my husband and I drove to the end of St. Helens at the Old Mill Park site.

All within a two-mile stretch of streets in the St. Helens city limits, 29 businesses have closed their doors. Six resale/antique stores (in which one can find great treasures) are operating in an additional six of these business closures. This is a total of 35 failed businesses in less than two miles.

This is definitely a problem that new condos and businesses on the waterfront will not help fix.

The City Council just seems so scattered by their many projects: toxic waste, an insufficient sewer plant, the probability of another Superfund (toxic waste site) being declared at the old creosote plant, leaks in our water reservoirs with the very real possibility of a water shortage. It just goes on and on.

Old town St. Helens is beautiful. I love every nook and cranny of it, closed up or not. I love the old courthouse and City Hall and the river and Gazebo Park and Knob Hill.

I am just asking the City Council to please not ask for or use additional money for improving the Old Mill land site or reconfiguring the downtown streets or building condos until our first needs are met.

We must help businesses remain viable. We must have water and we must have sewer.

Fix St. Helens first. Work on the "must have" projects. That beautiful piece of river property is not going away.

Nancy Whitney

St. Helens

Contract Publishing

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