Tort claim notice urges WL to address boat ramp issues
Chris Mitchell and the West Linn Riverfront Association say they aren't looking for a fight.
That statement might seem at odds with the tort claim notice filed to the City of West Linn Feb. 5 by attorney Janet Neuman on behalf of WLRA, which stated that "riverfront property owners upstream and downstream from the (Cedaroak) Boat Ramp have experienced excessive siltation along their river frontage" and "this damage to their properties also diminishes their property values."
But Neuman also wrote that her clients hoped to meet with City staff and find a resolution "without resort to litigation," and Mitchell — who serves as chairman of the WLRA — emphasized that point repeatedly on a recent afternoon as he watched the river snake by his Robinwood area home.
The WLRA is made up of property owners along the river with an interest in helping West Linn manage its riverfront.
"What we're looking for is to get into a discussion ... to partner with the City to help them fix the problem," Mitchell said. "The tort action we've put in place is to preserve our right, should the City not decide to follow through with the obligation. The last thing we need to do is get in a fight with the City — we're property taxpayers, so we'd essentially be fighting ourselves."
The problems, according to Mitchell, began shortly after the completion of a long-delayed reconstruction of the Cedaroak Boat Ramp last summer. He said the new ramp, which extends further into the river than the old one, causes a slight shift in the river's current and pushes silt into the lagoon on the west side of Cedar Island — lowering water levels and making it almost impossible for boats to enter the lagoon during low tide.
"Last year people were unable to even get into (the lagoon) because there's a sand spit," Mitchell said. "I have a smaller boat, and even my boat at low tide is struggling to get into there at times."
Even more alarming is what the WLRA believes to be excess fill material from the ramp construction project that has been jarred loose by the river current and swept downriver, causing buildups at private riverfront properties. The City ended up having to use a little over 14,000 tons of fill during construction, according to Worcester.
"People won't have access to the water anymore, and the other issue is going to be ... this is going to become stagnant water which is going to become mosquito-ridden, which is going to become a nuisance for all of us," Mitchell said. "And the people who have riverfront property, who paid for riverfront property, are going to have their houses completely devalued because they'll no longer have waterfront. And at the end of the day, that becomes a huge issue for the City."
The WLRA feels the solution is simple: The City should return to the site and dredge at the spots where silt is especially problematic.
"All we want is for the City to dredge it and return it to the way it was," Mitchell said, "and then get some kind of a plan in place to monitor if the boat ramp is causing this problem to continue to come back."
Since the tort claim notice was filed in early February, the two parties have yet to meet. And according to West Linn Parks and Recreation Director Ken Worcester, the issue with silt buildup near the boat ramp is not a new one. He said the buildup is caused by materials coming in from both the mouth of the Clackamas River and from over the Willamette Falls.
"Basically, the river is trying to rebuild itself," Worcester said. "(Cedar Island) was never an island — it was all mainland and when they were mining, they did a favor for neighbors and cut that slough in. And the river is repairing itself."
He added that the City has dredged the area in recent years and that hasn't solved the problem. In fact, the effects of a prior dredging effort ended up causing one of the most significant delays in the construction of the new ramp.
"We tried dredging around six or seven years ago," Worcester said. "We were required to do suction dredging, so the contractor was trying to get volume ... instead of moving around and dredging the boat ramp, he found one spot where the suction actually worked, and basically just stayed in this one little area and created this giant hole.
"Of course, that silted back in over the years and when they started to build the ramp, and they put the pikes back on it, it started sinking."
Nonetheless, Worcester said he will soon begin working on an application to the Corps of Engineers for a dredging permit, but the work would be limited and funding would be an issue.
"I said all along that once we closed the permit for (the construction) project, I would start on a new permit for (dredging) around the lagoon and maybe right in front of the (boat ramp) slough," Worcester said. "But we're not paying to go up and dredge (individual) slips and that sort of thing."
Worcester said dredging costs range from $15 to $50 per cubic yard, and added that the process can have a number of negative effects as well.
"It's almost detrimental," he said. "You put dredge materials out into the main stem of the river, so it moves downstream and plugs up someone else as well, probably."