Déjà Vu All Over Again

It’s been more than seven years since promoters of the (still just a proposal) Pacific Gales Golf Course came to town with their scheme to capture Port Orford wastewater for irrigation. In spite of receiving conditional use permits in 2016 to build a pipeline out beyond the city to their (still farmland) site, the project has not advanced one inch. Brazenly, they have come back year after year (five times now) for time extensions on those CUPs. Port Orford has been extremely lenient in interpreting its Municipal Code to allow the extensions — the Planning Commission did so again this year. But the would-be golf aces have not even been able to obtain the permits needed before they can use a drop of recycled water. We think it’s time to pipe this golf course off the stage for good. Port Orford can and must finally reclaim its water, and its advantage, in land use issues.

An appeal of the 2023 extension is scheduled for April 20. The notice, with maps of the possible pipeline routes, is below.

The Water “Emergency” We All Saw Coming

The City of Port Orford has declared an emergency regarding the Hubbard Creek impoundment for our water. Special city council sessions were held virtually on Friday, August 27, and Tuesday, August 31. With a bare 24 hours notice of Friday’s meeting, few if any citizens were alerted to attend. Requests for a link to the meeting have been ignored. What we do know is that it was the setup for the ban on “nonessential” water use enacted at Tuesday’s meeting. See the details here: https://www.portorford.org/pdfs/2021/Special%20Session%20CPP%2008-31-2021.pdf

The council did not allow any public questioning, comment, or other participation at these meetings – notwithstanding the fact that most citizens are city water ratepayers and have not been given any explanation of how the situation has been allowed to get this bad. Lack of dredging in the impoundment was cited, which in turn has been blamed on the Army Corps of Engineers and various regulatory agencies.

We suspect that declaring an emergency is a ploy designed as part of an appeal for aid directed to the entities named: the county, the state, and (yes!) even the President of the United States. And the so-called ban is to indicate that PO is doing its job. (Actually, one of the restrictions makes a lot of sense, and it should have been instituted long before now – no new water hookups!)

Why haven’t we gotten reports on this VITAL aspect of municipal responsibility all along? What actions have been taken? What are the various water sources “in and around the city of Port Orford” that are being looked into? What will the costs be for that, and who will pay? And how could any usage ban be expected to work, given that no oversight, no enforcement, and no penalties will be involved? If it’s simply an honor system, why enact a resolution at all? Just put out a post on Facebook.

In fact, one councilor jumped the gun by posting on Facebook about the coming action. This is how citizens first learned what was up. There are few who don’t want to do their part to ease the coming hardship. But some of us want to know more and are not content with the “because I say so” attitude of the city. We’re in that group.

On Tuesday, there was no discussion of either the emergency declaration or the ban on nonessential water use before the votes were taken. The ban is set to expire on November 1; it could be lifted earlier if conditions change. That is, if we get rain or if the situation at the Hubbard Creek impoundment improves. So to recap: No official explanation, staff report, or justification was given to the public and the water ratepayers for these votes.

Those who stuck around in the virtual meeting after the voting were able to get a little insight into what’s been going on. Councilors, the new administrator, and the public works director chatted for some time about their recent activities. But since the public did not have the benefit of the various reports or meetings with contractors being discussed, it was more of a puzzle than not. But here a few highlights that we were able to glean:

Number one problem: The impoundment dam is rotted. There is a temporary liner in the impoundment that allows some water to be captured from Hubbard Creek. The administrator and public works director have met with engineers (or others? some free professional advisors?). The holes in the dam were plugged with dirt, allowing some water gain.

The impoundment is silting up, limiting the holding capacity. One councilor opined that probably two-thirds has been lost. Dredging has not been done for eight or nine years, with the exception of last year, said another councilor. And no one seemed to know how or when the amount of siltation allowed by the Army Corps of Engineers to be removed was reduced from 2,000 yards to only 25 yards. (And we are told that recent applications for a dredging permit have not been successful.)

Second biggest emergency: The pump at the tank on Coast Guard Hill is vibrating and leaking; it is about to go and can’t be rebuilt. There is an immediate repair that can be done to keep up pressure, but a new pump is needed and major changes to the pumphouse for a new skid.

Leaks. There have been nine leaks on city pipelines in the last week and a half, said the public works guy. With a full crew only three days a week, just about the only thing they are doing now is fixing leaks that spring up. Of course this water loss is exacerbating the impoundment insufficiecy. The city has been told that our usual monthly water loss of up to 50 percent is far higher than the 15 percent that would be acceptable in a municipal system.

In short, the longtime deferred maintenance on Port Orford’s water infrastructure has now resulted in a cascade of dire problems. It remains to be seen just what the remedies will be. It is clear that they will be neither swift, nor cheap. Oh, and it was suggested that a new water rate study is needed. That means we can look forward to paying more in the future. Let’s hope we get a fair return on that money – not just more band-aids on the gaping wounds.

Pipeline Gains Approval for Two Routes — For Now

Despite numerous public comments questioning and identifying problems with the applications, both conditional use permits (a preferred and an alternate route for the effluent pipeline) were approved by the Port Orford Planning Commission on March 14. An appeal to the City Council is expected.

Before deliberating, the five-member commission reviewed the staff report and received advice from the city attorney and the city planner on the criteria to be used in their decision-making. A list of some 26 exhibits — ranging from photos and maps supplied by the applicant, Elk River Property Development, to letters and e-mails from opponents — that had been submitted was read into the record. The packet of information for the meeting is here:

Planning packet 3-14-2017

A critical question for the commissioners was whether the effluent pipeline is permissible according to city zoning codes. Because no such use is stated in the applicable ordinances, the answer depended on whether the pipeline could be described as a “similar use” to utilities that are allowed outright in the various zones. After much debate, the commission voted narrowly (three to two) that the pipeline is (as stated in Staff Report findings) “a private utility use of the same general type as the public utility uses listed.” Dissent revolved around whether private utility is a legally recognized term and whether the applicant qualifies as such a provider, either under Port Orford zoning or Oregon law.

After settling, however uneasily, the question of similarity, all that remained was to agree on conditions to be placed on construction of the pipeline. While technical issues, such as easements, engineering, and materials, are relatively straightforward, a major obstacle to approval for many who commented on the applications was lack of essential permits for receiving, transporting, storing, and even land application of effluent at the proposed golf course. A condition that all necessary permits must be acquired seems vague and weak at best, since they were not listed, nor were time limits set. Also, since the City of Port Orford has not yet agreed to supply effluent for the golf course — or even been asked to do so — obtaining permission for a pipeline to carry it looks pretty presumptuous.

Another glaring fault of the applications was that only part of the pipeline route was covered. Nothing was stated about how the effluent would get to the golf course once it left the City of Port Orford. Not even as background information. The excuse given was that P. O. Planning has no jurisdiction in the Urban Growth Boundary, which the pipeline would have to pass through, and that at some point Curry County would be applied to. ERPD had decided that Port Orford doesn’t need to know what goes on to the north, in spite of the Joint Management Agreement between city and county over the UGB.

And so, the golf course project rolls slowly along, zig-zagging among jurisdictions and agencies, revealing only bit by bit its larger plan and footprint. A strategy that may well serve them, but certainly makes a mockery of planning in North Curry County.

What Conditions Would You Place on the Proposed Pipeline to the Proposed Golf Course?

The Planning Commission hearing on February 14 was only the beginning of the Conditional Use Permit process for the proposed effluent pipeline. The second round of comments ends February 21 (seven days following the hearing). Then follows a further seven days (ending February 28) for responses to the new submittals, as well as new testimony. February 28 is the last day for the public to submit comments. The applicant then has seven days to cobble together their final response to all that has gone before. They will appear at the next hearing, on March 14, to continue to make their case. Whether the hearing will close and the commissioners begin to debate at that meeting, we do not know.

View the meeting here:

Video of 2-14-17 Planning Commission Meeting

Copies of written testimony (letters and e-mails) from the first round are available from the Planning Clerk at City Hall now. Copies of what comes in tomorrow will also become available, and so on until the next hearing.

The attorney for Oregon Coast Alliance sent in the following:

ORCA Letter re CUP 16-02 and 16-03

Another substantial comment was read into the record by Planning Commissioner John Roorbach. A copy was obtained from the clerk:

Roorbach re Pacific Gales Pipeline

The City Planner’s recommendations on conditions are contained in her Staff Report. See page 10 for a summary of conditions for the pump station. On pages 17 and 21 are conditions recommended for the preferred route and the alternate route, respectively. A link to the Staff Report is here:

Staff Report

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.

Essential Background Information: Port Orford’s Latest Water and Sewer Facilities Plans

With all of the talk about effluent from the city’s wastewater treatment plant, it seems like a good idea to know what the state of the system is now — and what it needs to be in the future. The same can be said for the water system. Although there have been “hearings” to “approve” the documents, only those who specially request them have received copies. To our knowledge, they are not posted on the city Web site, and there has been no effort to otherwise make them available, such as depositing a copy at the library.

100 Friends of Port Orford is now making the Plans available to anyone with access to a computer. (Port Orford Library offers free Internet access and use of their computers seven days a week. It isn’t even necessary to have a library card.) See the Plans by clicking the link below the heading at the top of the page.