Oregon City, Grand Ronde tribe in line for federal funds
Two projects in Oregon City each stand to get $2 million federal funding boosts if the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill makes it through Congress and receives President Joe Biden's signature.
Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde's redevelopment at Willamette Falls is slated to receive $2 million from the feds toward infrastructure at the former site of the Blue Heron paper mill. Meanwhile, downtown Oregon City could be a lot quieter — and crossing the railroad tracks could be safer — if another $2 million goes to construction of a Quiet Zone.
Oregon City's estimated total is to complete the Quiet Zone project is $2.6 million, necessitating a local funding match by the city of $600,000 if the federal funding comes in. Then city officials would have to negotiate an agreement with Union Pacific Railroad before building new train-track crossings.
Oregon City Mayor Rachel Lyles Smith said the Quiet Zone would foster prosperous economic development, improve safety, expand commerce and residential investment opportunities.
"Crossing improvements included in this project mean pedestrians and drivers will more easily navigate Oregon's first city," she said. "The Quiet Zone will be a game changer for those wanting to live and work in 2018's Great American Main Street, which will help lower emissions and drive economy to our independent business owners."
As a part of the tribe's broader redevelopment effort, which kicked off with demolition in September, Grand Ronde would use its share of the federal funding toward a total of $3.7 million in new street infrastructure and utilities. Tribal leaders plan new public streets, including an extension of Main Street from downtown Oregon City into the site. The previously vacated Water Avenue will be constructed from Highway 99E to Fourth Street, which will be extended from Water Avenue to Main Street. Along with new streets, new public utilities will be installed to serve the planned mixed-use development, including sewers, a water main, streetlights and traffic signals.
Since the paper company's bankruptcy in 2011, the old Blue Heron mill site has sat empty and abandoned. Cheryle A. Kennedy, chairwoman of the Grand Ronde Tribal Council, said the federal funds would allow "significant improvements to the property's infrastructure and take this project one step closer to welcoming family and friends back to Willamette Falls … We want to thank our senators for work they've done to highlight this important project."
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, said his goal as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee was to secure investments that will make a real difference in communities throughout Oregon.
"I'm pleased I was able to secure this $2 million in support of the Grand Ronde Tribes' ongoing effort to clean up and restore the Blue Heron site at Willamette Falls — a location that holds significant historical and cultural significance to tribal nations," Merkley said. "I will continue to advocate for this funding as it moves through Congress, and do everything I can to support the sovereignty and self-determination of tribal nations in Oregon."
Even if federal funds arrived soon, timelines are difficult to provide for completing the Quiet Zone, city officials said, as many partners are involved in this process, and supply chains are delayed. If the feds approve funding, the statewide and Metro-area transportation plans would need to be amended. Oregon City is not certified to deliver federally funded transportation projects, so city officials would need to contract with ODOT to help construct this project.
Oregon City plans to hire a consultant to lead the civil design, permitting and construction management services. City officials said all parties would be involved in building on conceptual work done in 2019. Â
Liz Hannum, executive director of the Downtown Oregon City Association, has partnered with the city in advocating for the project.
"With the Quiet Zone no longer a barrier to housing development, downtown Oregon City can develop housing that will support our existing businesses," Hannum said. "This not only means residents spending money at local businesses, but provides housing for employees who would normally need to drive and take up parking in our limited geographic area. It means more eyes on downtown at all hours of the day making it a safer place to be at night."
Clackamas County is planning to build a new courthouse at Red Soils up the hill, leading some downtown business owners to fear the loss of a major draw for people to visit downtown. If a Quiet Zone is in place when the courthouseÂ moves from downtown, property owners will be able to develop excess office space into usable housing, Hannum said.
"The Quiet Zone is not just a place where the train doesn't honk its horn; it's an opportunity to build a safety net for business and property owners for years to come," Hannum said.
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