During this year's election cycle the Blue Heron site is a headline in the mayoral campaign, and not a serious point of discussion.
From Dan Holladay the community cannot expect the next four years will be any different from the last four years. To be fair, Damon Mabee has not articulated his own vision for Oregon City's future and suggested the same policies of the past.
Holladay and Mabee's voting record are similar and there is no discernible policy differences, and no changes to the Blue Heron development. In a nutshell, their plans for the site are building more retail stores and using Willamette Falls as the tourist attraction. It is staggeringly familiar with the concept and expectations behind the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center that has yet to recoup its development cost. In today's money the Interpretive Center costs over $71 million, roughly the same amount the city is planning to raise for the riverwalk project.
A proposed alternative not being discussed brings 725 jobs to Oregon City and involves hosting the first National Disaster Response Complex in the United States. How these jobs are created comes down to math. A Complex has an inventory of 200 technology platforms and each platform is assigned two field operators. The resources and services are encapsulated within existing Federal Emergency Management Agency programs and delivered on an agency's behalf. The field teams are deployed within four hours and matched with supplemental disaster response teams to form a large pool of national response resources. The unit's embedded technology is attached to the operating centers and before being dispatched they are readied by service teams working within the Complex.
The Complex satellite control center, field operations and online services never sleep, and every 14 days different teams of field operators are rotated into the field. The entire cycle-of-service is labor intensive, and hosting a Complex in Oregon City naturally draws from a local workforce to fill the positions.
More precisely, expanding Oregon City's historical relevance by hosting the first facility of its kind comes with national and international recognition and increases in trade and commercial tourism. The Complex in Oregon City is a pilot design for a larger sister facility in South Australia. The newly found relationships are an immediate opportunity to bolster local business with a renewed focus for showcasing the City of Oregon City.
It is fair to say the election spurred Dan Holladay's announcing new developers to buy the Blue Heron mill site. How the deal is tied into winning the election nobody knows. Common sense tells us Holladay's newest revelation has problems. For instance, the community may not want to dismiss the change of ownership as quickly as the city or Dan Holladay because Mr. Heidgerken bought the property to develop in the first place. Mr. Heidgerken has benefitted from his own inactivity because any financial losses are easily carried over to reduce his overall tax liability. The city benefitted as long as Mr. Heidgerken provided them approvals to promote the development. With one washing the back of the other they milked the taxpayers for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Holladay and Mabee are intending to sweep the last five years under the rug as if nothing has happened, and expecting the community to accept it. I will not, because the abuses of power by the administration is compounded by the embarrassment of the mayor publicly intoxicated at official events. Oregon City deserves better.
The point is, Holladay touts new owners cannot remove the fact that Mr. Heidgerken and the city have benefited from the inactivity and no culpability behind spending public funds promoting the project. A similar pattern of profiting from the public and leaving them with the aftermath exists when Mr. Heidgerken was sued by Washington Department of Natural Resources in 2000. It should have been a red flag to officials. How Mr. Heidgerken was able to buy the iconic property for a little over $2 million was a gift. Moreover, why Holladay's administration continued covering for Mr. Heidgerken shirking his obligations has never been asked or answered, but it is not surprising.
In some ways the Blue Heron site mirrors the differences between the mayoral candidates. Developing the site for more retail store competes with existing businesses in Oregon City who are already struggling. Hosting a National Disaster Response Complex is a non-competing operation and increases commercial tourism without sacrificing anyone's best interests.
Dan Holladay and Damon Mabee measure economic success by increasing property values and residential development. Increases in property values are not sustainable economic policies and it undermines the idea of affordable housing. The alternative is improving Oregon City's future by attracting the companies willing to pay their workforce a living wage from the equitable economic policies, and from honest and experienced leadership.
Mark J. Matheson is a candidate for Oregon City mayor.