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West Linn City Council adopted the plan despite disagreements about Bernert Creek feasability study

PMG FILE PHOTO - The West Linn City Council adopted the Storm Drainage Master Plan at a meeting Tuesday, Nov. 12. A $20,000 feasibility study for daylighting Bernert Creek will get top priority in the City's Storm Drainage Master Plan, despite a push from Mayor Russ Axelrod to move it back down to a "medium" priority where city staff had originally set it.

The daylighting study was moved up in priority at the recommendation of the planning commission after testimony from members of the Savanna Oaks Neighborhood Association.

The West Linn City Council unanimously adopted the plan with the study as a top priority at a meeting Nov. 12 after a motion from the mayor to move it back down to "medium" failed on a 2-3 vote.

Public Works Director Lance Calvert clarified at the meeting that though the feasibility study was categorized as a top priority in the master plan, the real prioritization will come when the council chooses which projects are granted funding during the budgeting process.

Daylighting (moving an underground piped drainage above ground) the creek, which now runs beneath the White Oak Savanna has long been a goal of the Savanna Oaks NA, chiefly its president and secretary, Ed and Roberta Schwarz.

The Schwarzeshave testified at many a council and planning commission meetings about the general benefits that come from daylighting a piped stream, but others, including Axelrod have expressed doubt about whether those benefits would apply in this particular situation. The Schwarzeshave said daylighting would benefit the biodiversity of the area and could reduce the amount of pollutants and urban runoff the stream currently carries.

"One of my concerns about spending money with the feasibility (study), is you're going to have to build a large rock impounded structure. It's not going to be your pretty little creek that people would go necessarily sit around. It would be a large drainage facility," the mayor, a geologist, said at a meeting the week prior. "You're not going to be able to daylight all that drainage and put it out on the surface in a safe manner without it being a super robust structure."

Axelrod estimates that the cost of daylighting the creek would be at least $500,000, but likely much more. The mayor has also stated that he believes confining the creek to this structure takes away a lot of the benefits that make creek daylighting attractive.

Councilor Bill Relyea expressed his frustration with hearing the mayor's opinion on the matter.

"For somebody to sit up here and say, 'Well I'm an expert in the field,' well, where's your study to prove that? Are you a geologist or are you a hydrologist? If you're not a hydrologist don't give us an opinion about hydrology," Relyea said.

Axelrod clarified at this point that he is a registered geologist and hydro-geologist.

Council President Teri Cummings expressed a strong desire to understand more about the implications of daylighting the creek.

"When it's a park that we have acquired because of its natural features, I think it begs the question, is it feasible or not? Now, I don't know. We've seen preliminary feasibility studies. We should have owed it to ourselves then to answer that question," Cummings said.

The councilors had differing takeaways from the preliminary hydrology study of daylighting the creek.

The council heard testimony from one citizen on the matter Tuesday night who felt that it was unfair to other citizens for the project to be moved up in priority based on the testimony of a few residents with time to show up at meetings. Rory Bialostosky expressed concern about the restricted budget for stormwater projects and the number of other projects in the plan that deserve high priority.

"There are citizens in the community that are experiencing flooding as a result of failing infrastructure every time it rains," Bialostosky said. While the council appears to desire an investigation into daylighting Bernert Creek — a project with no real need other than aesthetics — as high priority project and I'm concerned that allowing a study to go forward will create a sense among passionate community members that the daylighting is going to happen."

Other projects listed as "high priority" in the plan are: Buck Street improvements, a water quality retrofitting for the Katherine Court pond, a stormwater system survey, and replacing culverts along Highway 43, 5th Avenue, Willamette Falls Drive and River Street.

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