Housing on the Landfill? Port Orford Should Be Weighing In

The September 28 Board of Commissioners workshop on leasing Curry County-owned land north of Port Orford resulted in a decision to set October 19 for a public hearing on the matter. The property includes the closed Port Orford Landfill site, which is monitored for groundwater migration of toxics at least yearly.

At the workshop, County Counsel John Huttl started his presentation of the issue by saying that they had been working since January on the draft lease. (It is unclear which county officials were involved.) He believes that it can be granted without dealing first with potable water and waste disposal issues, or the effluent pipeline to the proposed golf course. Read the lease here, on pages 5 through 15:

BOC packet 10-19-2016

Huttl also said that the county would be leasing property “not subject to the [toxic] plume. . . . I think the [environmental] risk is low.” He said he’s been involved in the past with development on brownfields – defined by the EPA as property known or suspected to be contaminated with hazardous substances. “We’re in touch with environmental engineers,” and “we have done our due diligence.”

Oregon Coast Alliance’s comments on the draft lease were discussed next. Huttl enumerated and dismissed them one by one.

ORCA re landfill lease

Elk River Development, the lessee, was represented by an attorney and by principal Jim Haley, who was on speaker phone. Commissioner Huxley asked, Is the lease area in the Urban Growth Boundary? Though staff and the other commissioners tried to duck the question, Haley said clearly, “Why we’re looking at this property at all is because it IS in the UGB!” This would make it possible to annex any eventual development into the City of Port Orford.

As stated by ORCA, “This property is in the Urban Growth Boundary, and thus subject to the 1978 Urban Growth Area Management Plan Agreement between Port Orford and Curry County. As is clear from the Agreement, Port Orford has many concerns about providing urban services to the UGB area, and seeks to ensure the City has an adequate part in the planning and approval for urbanization inside the UGB. This lease could very easily end up requiring Port Orford to provide both water and sewer to houses if the landfill and/or its leachate made other water and waste removal options impractical or triggered a public health emergency.”

Clearly, to exercise its fiduciary duty, Port Orford should be taking an active part in these negotiations. However, at the October 13 League of Women Voters Candidates Forum, a question to council candidates revealed that this is not happening. The current mayor said that “it’s not our place . . . it’s a county issue.” Council candidates present mostly agreed. However, the Management Plan states that “The Port Orford Planning Commission will be notified of any applications received” for zone change, conditional use change, subdivision or other development activity in the UGB.

Urban Growth Area Management Plan

Why is this coordination important? Because Port Orford may be required to provide urban facilities, such as water, sewer, and police/fire protection to any development within this jurisdiction. The city needs to review such plans and set its own conditions, based on local requirements. “The proposed development must meet all the county requirements and those set by the City of Port Orford for final approval,” according to the plan.

To take a pass on this responsibility seems gravely short-sighted – even at the conceptual stage. A sitting mayor should not be saying that Port Orford has no part in this planning matter, when the joint Management Agreement says otherwise.

We urge citizens to contact the BOC with their comments on the proposed lease, and make their concerns known to the mayor and City Council in Port Orford.