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Jerry Herrmann: Skilled professionals have plan that can solve many environmental impacts, restore historic Abernethy Green

Recent discussions and articles about a proposed development at Rossman Landfill in Oregon City need clarification. COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF OC - Developers envision a 500-unit housing project along with a retail and entertainment complex, including recreational facilities, hotels, retail stores, financial services and restaurants.

For the past several years, a qualified and talented design and development group have been seeking to make things happen on a site all of us "let go" between the 1960s and 1983. During that 23-year period, over 100 acres of historic bottomland, wetlands and cultural history areas were excavated, filled and ultimately destroyed as Oregon's first major landfill was constructed.Jerry Herrmann

Rossman Landfill was an idea to deal with garbage in a different way besides dumping it, as was the practice in nearby Newell Creek Canyon or other locations. No one knew the potential problems from "unsegregated waste." What would happen if industrial, commercial, agricultural and residential waste all ended up in an unlined burial annually inundated by rains and floods of the nearby Clackamas River? We let it happen because we did not know better.

In my initial studies of environmental science and later graduate class at Portland State University, I did a research paper on what would become, "Oregon's worst landfill."

Past proposals looked at building on 80 of those acres in a way that had been proven to work on demolition debris landfills. Bridgeport Village, a very successful project, was on a demolition landfill in Tigard, not raw unsegregated garbage, industrial waste and who knows what else.

For the past several years, a new look at Rossman Landfill by very qualified interests that specialize in environmental remediation have chosen a path which is doable at historic Abernethy Green. Those efforts, led by Summit Development, are following proven paths as the city of Vancouver developed their successful waterfront projects with townhouses, condominiums at the site of industrial paper mill. That city provided input of funds to attack that difficult site with the developer then seeking funds from the state of Washington, EPA and other sources, much like what is being proposed here in Oregon City.

Summit proposes to properly cover a first-of-its-kind landfill and manage all stormwater above the landfill, thus creating 80 acres of clean watershed instead of the pollution of the existing landfill. It would ultimately provide one of the biggest economic centers in Oregon, employing hundreds if not thousands. Abernethy Green proponents know very well that area roads, trails, sidewalks and bio swales must all be upgraded, and their plan proposes to do just that.

People talk about a project being built without proper regulatory supervision. Regulations have only gotten stronger to the point that Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality requires this development or anything like it to prove they will not create more problems but in fact solve problems of the past. Abernethy Green proponents have to assure a trust fund is kept for any problems.

People say "the risk is too high and there are too many uncertainties."They neglect to recognize the fact that the existing landfill is affecting water quality and all of Oregon City's North End, and that includes Clackamette Cove. Revamping landfill runoff, installing huge amounts of native vegetation and recreating aspects of historic Abernethy Green are plans that make sense.

People say the company leading this effort has not explored the availability of federal brownfield, environmental cleanup and other funding sources." Thelma Haggenmiller and I brought these concepts forward and asked for support from the landfill's original builders and owners Clackamas County, when we spoke with Chair Tootie Smith. She graciously agreed to have the county participate if asked by Oregon City, but Oregon City had to ask. Limited federal funds were available, but the problem for Abernethy Green proponents was that those economic stimulus funds were to be restricted to lands owned by a city, county, tribes or nonprofits. There are still many sources of funds to do cleanups in America.

Skilled professionals have come up with a plan that can solve many of Rossman Landfill's environmental impacts and restore some of the character of historic Abernethy Green. The time is right. The right people are involved. A very dedicated DEQ staff and process have set rigorous standards. People shouldn't ask anymore, "What about this, what about that?" People should be saying it's time to get on with fixing the mess and creating an economic benefit for our region in Oregon.

Jerry Herrmann is president of Rivers of Life Center, a nonprofit organization serving the Willamette Valley by hiring at-risk youth to promote tourism and environmental cleanups.

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