Task force recommends using Blue Heron property for active park

by: TIDINGS FILE PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Meeting for the first time since November 2012, the Blue Heron Redevelopment Task Force narrowed 11 potential uses for the Blue Heron property down to one Jan. 22. When the Blue Heron Redevelopment Task Force met with city staff Jan. 22, much had changed around West Linn since its last formal gathering in November 2012.

The Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership project was approved and broke ground; a petition was filed to recall the city council; just four days earlier, the historic Willamette General Store had shut its doors for good.

All the while, the Blue Heron project remained in something of a limbo, as presentations were made to the city council but the task force made little progress in narrowing down its list of 11 potential uses for the 39-acre site along the Willamette River.

That all changed Jan. 22, as the task force came away with the tentative conclusion that the property should be developed into an active park with the possibility of some “retreat space” features being added on in the process.

The site is near Willamette Park and is the former property of the bankrupt Blue Heron Paper Company. After Blue Heron declared bankruptcy in 2009, Clackamas County Water Environment Services (WES) purchased the site in the spring of 2012 for $1.75 million with interest in the site’s valuable outfall permits.

Those permits will allow WES to release treated wastewater into the Willamette River. WES is working on behalf of the Tri-City Service District and Clackamas County Service District No. 1, both of which provide wastewater services to most of urbanized north Clackamas County.

The purchase covered land and environmental assets, including not only the outfall into the Willamette River but also the pipes, easements and existing environmental permits.

The districts will use the site’s outfall to meet the challenges of increasingly stringent rules regulating mixing zones and heat discharges into the Willamette River.

But the districts will use just a small portion of the site — WES made the remaining acreage available for other public uses as determined by the city of West Linn.

The task force’s job was to determine the most effective use of the site. In April 2013, it presented a list of 11 ideas to the city council, including both passive and active parks; an interpretive learning center; a community or aquatic center; mixed income and green housing development; high-rise senior condos; high-end housing; a campground; a new public works operations facility; and commercial development.

With about half of the task force present Jan. 22, along with Associate City Planner Sara Javoronok and Parks and Recreation Director Ken Worcester, the goal was to come to a rough consensus about how to develop the site.

“There’s an awful lot of process left (after the task force suggestion),” Worcester said. “We’re finding out tonight what won’t happen at the site.”

Kathy Frasier, hired to represent WES, said narrowing the options would help WES determine exactly what types of remedial procedures would be needed to eliminate contaminants at the site.

The bulk of the property is contained within a 15-acre pond, which for the last 40 years has been used to treat and settle cellulose and other wastewater materials from the former Blue Heron Paper Co. mill in Oregon City.

An environmental assessment of the pond completed in March of 2012, found about 200,000 cubic yards of sludge containing low levels of contaminants and ranging between 5 and 14 feet in depth.

WES conducted a remedial contamination investigation over the summer, and though Frasier was not prepared to share details, she said there were no surprises that could derail the project.

Regardless of the final plan for the site, WES will likely look to “dry and cap” the sludge to eliminate contamination concerns, rather than removing it entirely at a much steeper cost.

“There will be a public process regarding the remediation itself,” Frasier said. “Then, the site will get remediated based on what the likely use is going to be.”

When it came to deciding the most feasible option for the site, the task force was quick to eliminate high-cost options like housing, a new public works facility and commercial development.

Regardless of the final plan, 2 acres on the northwest corner of the property are marked for single-family/cottage/townhouse units.

Proposals for a museum or conference center were also shelved, as the task force concluded that the location simply wouldn’t attract enough users.

The task force members agreed that an active park with an athletic field and other features was the best option. Task force member Linda Register suggested that the area might double as a “retreat space” with rustic cabins to be used for overnight stays.

“It would keep that northwest feel,” Register said. “Keep it rustic and low key.”

Yet others commented that campgrounds — even on a small scale — would be out of place in that area of the city, and Worcester added that a city ordinance prohibits camping.

“It would be, in essence, the city’s first hotel,” Worcester said, “the first place to rent a room for the night.”

In the end, the task force agreed to at least keep the option on the table.

After communicating the decision with members who were not present Jan. 22, the task force will present its findings to the city council at a later date.

By Patrick Malee
503-636-1281, ext. 106
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