Milwaukie Bay Park project delayed, pending agreement
Clackamas County commissioners have delayed moving forward with the Milwaukie Bay Park project, citing concerns that they don't have enough contractual safeguards in place in case Milwaukie withdraws.
Proposed construction would be a joint effort between city officials and the North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District to develop 3.6 acres of Willamette River waterfront. The site will include a new children's play area, an interactive water feature, social gathering areas, public art, a safer permanent alignment of the regional Trolley Trail, accessible pathways and new plantings to bolster natural areas.
At a policy meeting on Tuesday, July 6, Commissioner Paul Savas and other county board members were dissatisfied with a lack of progress on the project which has been in the works since 2018, and proposed the board wait another week before approving any more funding so they could ensure their relationship with Milwaukie was in good standing and they were at no risk of losing the funds if the city were to withdraw from the project for any reason.
Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba declined to comment on the board's concerns, but said he will meet with board members on Wednesday, July 14 to discuss the issue further.
At last week's policy meeting, Heather Nelson Koch, NCPRD planning and development manager, presented to the board requesting approval on a contractual amendment for the project, worth over $643,000. Savas said he was not aware the amount would be so high, and had previously thought the board would only be risking $100,000 if they approved the new amendment.
Savas proposed the board table the discussion for one week, saying it could allow time to clarify the funding concerns as well as concerns about zoning. He asked at what point would the county "tap the brakes if our partner is not willing to move forward" with an intergovernmental agreement? "How much money do we spend?" Savas said.
Koch said that further delays would put the parks district at risk of being unable to begin construction until next year, saying that they need "pretty much every week of lead time" they can get.
Multiple board members referenced the fallout from Happy Valley's withdrawal from NCPRD in 2017 as a basis for their concerns. When Happy Valley pulled out of the parks district, they took assets such as parks with them and, according to Savas, left the district in a vulnerable financial position.
"Prior to Happy Valley pulling out or the legislature, we had a project underway that we built, Hidden Springs. That's probably one of the greatest parks assets, and we invested a whole lot of money, and then they left the district and took the asset," Savas said.
Commissioner Sonya Fischer echoed Savas' sentiments about wanting to avoid a repeat situation, and asked Koch how the county could protect itself in the event Milwaukie left the parks district.
"How can we put some safeguards in at this place, that if there's something that would trigger an event in the future, that if there was a withdrawal, that we would get those resources back?" Fischer asked, adding that perhaps they could proactively "hammer out" any potential disagreements that would cause a withdrawal in the first place.
Koch replied that those agreements don't typically happen until a project's construction phase, and the Milwaukie Bay Park Project is in the design and pre-construction phase.
Commissioner Martha Schrader expressed concern that Milwaukie may withdraw if they delay the project any further.
"I'm concerned that if we don't go forward with it now. They'll just walk, and what will that do to the district anyway? They'll just have all this money for something else," Schrader said.
County Administrator Gary Schmidt said that he is concerned about the county's overall relationship with Milwaukie.
"I am concerned about our relationship with the city of Milwaukie, I will say that openly, publicly, I'm concerned," Schmidt said. "This is a project that was approved a long time ago, it's part of the master plan of the parks district... I'm concerned that even a week's delay will impact the relationship with a very important partner of ours."
"We have all experienced, including Gary, some communications from Milwaukie that are concerning," Savas added. "We are trying to work in good faith. I think it's a great project, I'd like to see the project built, I publicly support the project, but we need to protect the interests of the districts and the district assets."
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