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PORTLAND TRIBUNE: LYNDSEY HEWITT - Ron White, owner representative of Thomas Cully Park project phase 1 with nonprofit Verde, discussed the park's amenites, including the Inter-Tribal Gathering Garden where 136 giant boulders will make up a compass rose. Officials are targeting mid-2017 as an opening date.The reduction of green space in Portland has sprouted unlikely projects in unlikely places.


Residents in Lents recently turned what was once an “eyesore” of open space next to Springwater Corridor, and a site used for garbage dumping, into a fully functioning community orchard.

By mid-2017, Northeast Portland’s Cully neighborhood will effectively turn trash into treasure and see an old landfill turned into a park.

The ambitious project is $1 million away from securing all the funds needed, as project contributors hone in on their full $10.6 million goal to formally start Phase I of Thomas Cully Park, located at Northeast 72nd Avenue, north of Killingsworth Street.

The latest major contribution of $3 million, from Portland Parks & Recreation, was announced by Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz last month, when the Portland Parks Foundation held its 15th anniversary celebration.

The foundation has committed to raise $500,000, while local nonprofit Verde will raise the other half.

Though the city has its hands in the project, the 25-acre park is “essentially” being constructed and carried out by Verde, according to Jeff Anderson, executive director of the Portland Parks Foundation. The city handed the reins over to Verde to seek out a more community-oriented project.

“My sense is that it was an experiment in a way. It helped to heighten the priority that a local organization was willing to take it on. It was a way to accelerate the park development as part of a community strategy,” says Anderson. He became executive director last October, after efforts for the Cully park project were well underway.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: LYNDSEY HEWITT - Preliminary work is already underway on the new park.The park is part of a larger effort to revitalize the Cully neighborhood, called Living Cully, a collaboration started in 2010 by several nonprofit agencies focused on equity, diversity and an anti-poverty strategy. Cully neighborhood is considered an underserved community, where 45 percent of residents are low- income.

A campaign steering committee recently met for the first time to outline plans.

A timeline for opening Thomas Cully Park is not yet set in stone, as fundraising and outreach continues. But Anderson says mid-2017 is the target, where the first phase would include a youth soccer field, an Inter-Tribal Gathering Garden, playground, walking paths, parking lot and an expansion of the Northeast 72nd Avenue community garden. The second phase would add ballfields.

Reflecting on Portland’s growth, Anderson says, “I think we’re going to have to start to look at parks in a different way. Certainly preserving these 25 acres is an important first step.

“What we’re trying to do is just stay alert as to the kinds of park development happening in other major areas around the world. There’s really creative sutff going on in Europe and Asia to create green spaces, sometimes changing the tops of parking spaces into parks.”

Long time coming

The Thomas Cully Park site has been planned for park development by the city since 2002. The site was used as a sand and gravel quarry from the 1950s to the 1980s, and then a landfill accepting mostly construction waste from 1980 to 1991.

A master plan to create a new park was created in 2008, and in 2011, the Let Us Build Cully Park! coalition worked with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Oregon Health Authority, which fully funded a $135,000 assessment to discern the former landfill’s environmental conditions.

A 2013 report by the Environmental Health Assessment Program states there are no immediate dangers to future park users, that concentrations of chemicals found are too low to affect health. Elevated levels of air pollutants at the site, the report says, are related to regional air pollution rather than the landfill itself.

However, methane gas from the landfill will continue to be produced as long as it takes for the material from the landfill to break down and decompose, according to letusbuildcullypark.org, the coalition’s website.

The gas is contained within a methane control system and burned daily in a facility next to the Northeast 75th Avenue entrance.

According to the DEQ, which issued a No Further Action (needed) declaration in December 2015, on-site monitoring is conducted monthly.

“So far, no off-site monitoring points have shown dangerous levels of methane. Operation of the new gas extraction wells should help to control methane levels and prevent future landfill fires,” a DEQ report states. Underground fires occurred at the site in the past.

Find out more online

• letusbuildcullypark.org

• livingcully.org

• verdenw.org

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