Bernert Creek should be daylighted, full stop
Have you ever found something in nature so special that you decided it was worth mortgaging your home, selling some stock, and adding a little of your nest egg in order to obtain it for the community?
Well, we did. And we need to tell you why.
The White Oak Savanna in West Linn was once used by three of the five Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. The acorns and blue camas found in the Savanna were a plentiful food source to the tribes. There were once 600,000 acres of this habitat in the Willamette Valley. Now only 2% remains. Over 108 vertebrate species are identified with the Savanna. Forty-one native plants have reemerged because of the almost 16,000 volunteer hours worked by the community during the last several years. Over 2,000 students have helped with this restoration. This is the 15th year that the community has worked on saving and restoring the Savanna.
This work helps to maintain a physical link to our shared history. Our local nonprofit organization, Neighbors for a Livable West Linn (NLWL), worked in partnership with the Trust for Public Land to raise matching fund grants from Oregon State Parks and Recreation (2 grants), Metro (2 grants), and the City of West Linn. There were over 110 fundraisers completed in the community by NLWL. The willing seller donated over $1.3 million in value of the land. $500,000 in private donations from the community were added to purchase all 20 acres of the White Oak Savanna as a natural park in early 2017.
Community support and partnerships for the Savanna came from many different groups including, but not limited to: local and national businesses, local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, local churches, PGE, PSU and OSU alumni, Oregon Department of Forestry, Coffee Creek inmates, several West Linn schools, Dr. Richard Mishaga (PH.D biologist), naturalist Wendell Wood, nine West Linn Neighborhood Associations, two Chamber of Commerce presidents, and numerous elected officials.
Had it not been saved, the White Oak Savanna would have been 280,000 square feet of Office Business Center development with 400 parking spaces. Hundreds of Garry Oaks would have been taken down and this natural gem would have been lost forever.
As with many large projects, disagreements occasionally arise as to the best course of action. There have been times in the past that our Park Department did not work in tandem with us as we worked toward the goal of saving this beautiful place as a natural park. For example, this area was listed in the Parks Master Plan but was not purchased as a park in 2005 when the city could have purchased it. The sale price was substantially higher several years later when we set about buying it in two phases. A few years later, the Park Department joined ranks with other city staff in stating that we would have to raise another $1 million to $2 million to pay for curbs and sidewalks around the park. This later turned out not to be the case.
For design of the planned children's play area, the Park Department did not reach out in advance to the people who had worked so hard and so long to make this park happen. No members from the NA were invited to any of the design meetings. We were provided finished maps with small print. The photos of the proposed play equipment were never shown to us in advance of the final decision of the Planning Commission.
We also re-stated that Bernert Creek should be brought to flow above ground (which is also called daylighting). Daylighting has been part of the people's plan for this park from the very beginning. A hydrologist report regarding daylighting the creek, commissioned by the citizens, was done in 2007. Other neighborhoods have been able to have a large say in their park planning and we request the same.
Now, we seem once again to be at a crossroads on the Savanna. The Park Department does not want to daylight Bernert Creek. They want to put in an acre of many types of play equipment, some of which are incompatible with this Significant Natural Habitat. Oregon's Department of State Lands approved the City of West Linn's Wetland, Riparian, and Wildlife Habitat Inventory in January of 2005. It lists the Savanna as a Significant Natural Habitat. It shows Bernert Creek to be a Wetland. The Inventory states "The site provides forage, cover, and nesting habitat for a variety of wildlife including species associated with oak communities such as band tailed pigeon (a federal Species of Concern)." Upper Bernert Creek was given an Enhanced Score of 58 on the Habitat Assessment Summary. This area is listed as a Significant Natural Resource on West Linn's Goal 5. Bernert Creek is listed on the National Wetlands Inventory and on Clackamas County's map as well. It should be on West Linn's wetland map. At our own expense, we have once again retained Hydrologist Jon J Rhodes to do a report. The report lists the numerous benefits of daylighting Bernert Creek. Among those listed are reducing the volume of urban runoff, improving water quality and reducing pollutant loads delivered to downstream reaches of Bernert Creek and the Willamette River, benefiting biodiversity, and reducing the long-term cost of maintaining drainage infrastructure. Several conservation organizations have read this Hydrology Evaluation and have submitted Letters of Support.
The daylighted creek will be a welcome spot for veterans from the VA Clinic, residents of the two nearby Assisted Living Centers, kids who want to dangle their feet in a cool spot in the Savanna, people who walk there for their lunches, people who come from as far away as the Portland Metro area, neighbors, and everyone. The scientific record — including the Goal 5 Inventory and hydrologist report, the CDC, the conservation community, and the citizens who have real skin in the game — all support daylighting Bernert Creek.
Chapter 32 of the West Linn Community Development Code supports Bernert Creek being daylighted as part of the play area being constructed and it should have been included in that application. It states the following:
A. This chapter applies to all development, activity or uses within WRAs identified on the WRA Map. It also applies to all verified, unmapped WRAs. The WRA Map shall be amended to include the previously unmapped WRAs.
32.060 APPROVAL CRITERIA (STANDARD PROCESS)
H. Daylighting Piped Streams.
1. As part of any application, covered or piped stream sections shown on the WRA Map are encouraged to be "daylighted" or opened
What we are asking for is the following:
That Bernert Creek be rerouted to flow above ground once again. This can be accomplished by leaving the underground culvert in place and redirecting the Creek above ground.
That there be a redesign of the playground at the White Oak Savanna so that it is more compatible with a natural park, and the permanent bathroom facility be replaced by an ADA-accessible porta toilet.
The budget for the Savanna playground improvements is $600,000. There is disagreement between Oak Savanna supporters and City of West Linn staff regarding the cost of the daylighting the creek. The cost for the daylighting may be covered in part by eliminating some of the incompatible playground equipment and the permanent bathroom facility planned for the Savanna. The bathroom facility should be replaced with an ADA-accessible porta toilet so no major vandalism can be done there as was done recently in Mary S Young Park. This also eliminates the need to install water pipes into the park.
Construction on the playground has already been delayed by two years because of the lack of companies willing to bid on the project. We can eliminate the play structures that do not fit in this natural habitat while retaining those that do. This will both save money and make it a better park. The children will still have plenty of natural play equipment. Bernert Creek will once again flow above ground. There will be something for everyone. If doing this right takes a little more time, no problem. Let's just do it right.
Savanna Oaks NA looks forward to working with the City Parks Department to make the White Oak Savanna a park that the entire city can be proud of.
Ed Schwarz and Roberta Schwarz are president and secretary Savanna Oaks Neighborhood Association, respectively.
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