April 18 Effluent Subcommittee Meeting: Decision Stands

At Monday’s meeting, Councilors Cox and Pogwizd stood by their decision of April 11. The subcommittee recommendation to the Port Orford City Council is: Tell Elk River Property Development that Port Orford WILL supply effluent for their proposed Pacific Gales Golf Course. Councilor Clancy’s NO vote also stood, and more closely represented the will of the citizens present at the meeting.

The audience (approximately 15 citizens) was more subdued than at the April 11 meeting. But just in case we might want to voice our questions and criticism a bit more informally, a P.O. Police Dept. officer was on hand to keep order. Also present was City Counsel Kudlac (I guess we’re getting serious now!), the City Administrator, Jeff Knapp, and Troy Russell, as well as the subcommittee. Notably, County Commissioner David Brock Smith was also present, playing hooky from the Board of Commissioners meeting being held simultaneously in Gold Beach. More later about him!

So, what did we learn? Russell has a new Power Point presentation on the mechanics of the pump stations, drilling process, etc. Tinkering around the details of materials and processes. Again we were told that the city is “not obligated” to anything. Supposedly, at any time we do not like what we see and do not want to go forward, we can back out. Counsel Kudlac stated that Port Orford is not obligated except “under contract language.” And as far as we know, no contracts have been signed. Those documents submitted to DEQ and other state agencies, with the signatures of city officials? Hmmmmm. Oh, and what about that agreement Russell had in front of him at the meeting? He referred to it, but not even the councilors had a copy. The one thing we know is in it is a clause that gives him the effluent for free for three years. Hmmmmmm.

ERPD and its consultants must have put hundreds of hours into seeking permits, preparing maps and other documentation, and who knows what else, over the past year. Does anybody really believe they would take NO for an answer, give up and walk away? We have been going down the primrose path with them since at least last May, when they succeeded in getting permission to piggyback a second wastewater outfall for the golf course onto renewal of the city’s NPDES permit. Currently, this permit is on hold because of the added outfall process. It should have been approved by October 2015.

We need to ask a Big Question: Just whose interests are being served? With small, incremental commitments, the City Council majority has obligated Port Orford more and more to this private business venture with no track record, with unknown assets, and with questionable intentions. They have not amended their Curry County conditional use permit to reflect the use of effluent or the construction of a pipeline through the Urban Growth Boundary. Land use hearings have not been held on the pipeline or on their residential development plans. (We know they have them, because we’ve seen a letter they sent regarding leasing county-owned land in the UGB.) There has been no public process on the DEQ permit and the associated Recycled Water Use Plan. That’s no public input, folks. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Here is another Big Question: How can the council majority keep getting the city in deeper and deeper on this without fully informing the citizens, water/sewer ratepayers, and other stakeholders? Whether or not you favor a golf course, obligating Port Orford to such a risky business is another question altogether. And it’s pure folly to do so in the absence of all the facts.

Which brings us to Commissioner Smith. We have speculated privately among ourselves about residential and commercial development north of town. Now, finally, somebody publicly points out that gorilla in the room. During a dialog between Councilor Clancy and Smith during public input, she related that he had spoken to her privately some time ago, recommending that the council vote to annex the golf course into the city and extend city services to it (which would be required in any annexation). He did not deny Clancy’s claim. Presumably, he still favors it.

Such annexation would have to be done by “cherry stemming,” or connecting the golf course to the city by a narrow corridor (stem) through the UGB. The UGB, of course, is a swath of land not yet part of the city of Port Orford, but available for inclusion at some future time. So, could the proposed pipeline route through the UGB — the Arizona Street right-of-way — also be used for water and sewer lines? And might this open up the possibility of annexing not only the golf course but also properties in the UGB, which at present have no city services? This would mean quite a boost in property values for owners out there. And it would make all types of development more possible and more profitable.

The dominoes continue to fall, but it’s far from Game Over. The City Council needs to take a time-out and really explore what it means before agreeing to this effluent deal. Let’s see all of the cards on the table, and bring everybody into the game.

Click the link below to go to a video of the meeting.