Oak Lodge Water authority request gets green light from county
Dozens of advocates for creating an authority for Oak Lodge Water Services waited nervously in the county commission's hearing room on April 14, fearing another delay by Clackamas County's elected officials.
Instead of more disappointment, the OLWS boosters applauded as the county commissioners unanimously approved a preliminary order to create the authority. Another hearing is scheduled for May 5 to finalize OLWS's perpetual boundaries for providing sewer and drinking-water services for the unincorporated area between Milwaukie and Gladstone.
Clackamas County officials last fall asked OLWS to hold additional public meetings on the formation of an authority to keep OLWS boundaries in place forever, so that customers may continue to receive water services at rates that are based solely on their cost, rather than being siphoned off into other functions of a city.
As county officials canceled upcoming hearings, County Chair Tootie Smith had previously said there was "no rush" to create an authority since she doesn't predict anyone will be able to form a city in Oak Lodge in the next couple of years. She wanted better "assurances" in writing from OLWS on stormwater problems before granting an authority.
Neil Schulman, executive director of the North Clackamas Watersheds Council, was among those on April 14 urging county commissioners to grant an authority, a type of special district allowed under Oregon law. Schulman said it would be a "mistake" for county commissioners to delay an authority until the county and OLWS could figure out their respective "roles" in building improved roads in the district, leading to less flooding and toxic runoff.
"The ability to clarify those roles will only be possible when the district has secure boundaries that allow for a stable environment to do coherent planning, and that conversion to the authority will make that discussion much more straightforward and productive," Schulman said. "The future of North Clackamas County will rest in part, I believe, on the extent to which we can integrate our growing communities with healthy streams, and this transition is a critical part of making that possible."
OLWS Vice President Ginny Van Loo has previously said the authority will be a needed step to protecting public assets from impending takeovers by a neighboring city or a new city. Last year, a Metro-funded study evaluating governance options for the Oak Lodge area concluded that it is "financially feasible" to pursue annexing into the city of Milwaukie or incorporating a new city.
Clackamas County recently approved new land-use regulations in Oak Lodge that will substantially increase the density of housing developments allowed along McLoughlin Boulevard's commercial corridor. At a recent authority hearing, county officials expressed concern about OLWS' ability to serve the area's potentially burgeoning population.
In contrast to CRW's failed effort to become an authority in 2005, Oak Lodge obtained permission from its neighboring cities. The Milwaukie and Gladstone city councils approved resolutions in favor of the authority, recognizing OLWS currently provides water services for a small proportion of citizens in both cities.
Oak Lodge Board President Paul Gornick said the district's elected officials believe changing to an authority would boost the district's ability to plan for future capital improvements, protect the integrity of the district's investments and limit the risk of losing a portion of the customer base through annexation or incorporation.
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