Letter #1 made it into the Molalla Pioneer:
(Open letter to Molalla City Council):
Dear City Council,
I participated in the Shirley Bank hearings before the Planning Commission in Oct. Nov. and Dec. I interacted with ODOT officials about how the PC was manipulated into absolving the developer of paying for curbs, gutters and sidewalks. I attempted to find out in advance of the Feb. 8 appeal hearing what the scope would entail so I would not waste time preparing if the hearing would be limited in scope. I left in disgust on Wed. night after your vote to limit testimony to “#7” (pedestrian access through the wall) only to find out later that you reversed and did not limit to “only #7”. I support the final outcome but I cannot condone the insulting failures in process that occurred throughout the Shirley Bank hearings.
I suggest you and your planning commission quickly find a way to become trained in how to hold competent planning hearings so you don’t leave Molalla open for legal challenges. Your PC needs to be trained to understand codes and to be independent of being manipulated into making poor decisions. Public Works Director Fisher introduced the idea of a waiver of remonstrance to absolve the developer of providing road improvements after the Oct. hearing was closed to public comment so there was no chance to rebut. I suggest you listen to the tapes of the Oct., Nov. and Dec. Planning Commission meetings to hear the “suggestions” made by City Manager Huff and Fisher to the PC. The Planning Commission is citizen volunteers; it was insulting for them to be fed ideas which were totally counter to your codes and to ODOT’s input.
You should investigate the failure of your staff to provide a single handout – no agenda, no handouts regarding Shirley Bank, no minutes and no sign-in sheet – at the hearing. Is Molalla so strapped for money that it can’t provide attendees the basic information needed to follow the proceedings?
Please read Goal One, citizen involvement in planning, which is easily found on the DLCD website. Participants in planning issues are entitled to access to enough technical information so that they can be informed participants in planning. The failure to provide any handouts, agendas, minutes or sign in sheets or to state the scope of the hearing in advance was totally counter to the intentions stated in Goal One.
And now for the letter that didn’t make it into the paper, after the above “open letter” apparently ruffled some feathers in City Hall. Gee, could it be that Molalla “officials” don’t want the truth out in public? Anyplace with the sewage plant violations Molalla faces should celebrate information about potential solutions and opportunities to interact with DEQ reps. The City Council was invited to the meeting referenced in this letter – too bad none of them had the courage to attend.
There seems to be a mistaken idea among Molalla City “officials” that admitting problems and finding solutions is negative. How’s that positive thinking propaganda and censorship working out, City Council? Not so well, since that pesky First Amendment still is functioning and the City prepares for a high level legal showdown over these wastewater problems. Here’s letter #2:
It’s alarming to see the City of Molalla’s attempts to discount the severity of its ongoing sewage management violations. Instead of complying with DEQ’s request for test well monitoring, Molalla spent money in February for a lawyer’s letter to try to dodge monitoring and to try to avoid a penalty for 20 days of illegal discharge into the Molalla River in October. A responsible city would put public and environmental health first by proceeding with test wells to ensure that groundwater and private wells are not being contaminated by leaking sewage lagoons. Molalla violated its Total Suspended Solids (TSS) limits in December, January and February, resulting in another impending DEQ Enforcement Action; suspended solids impact the health of aquatic life.
I’ll agree with one sentence in the lawyer’s letter: “Like many small communities in Oregon, Molalla faces challenges with aging infrastructure” (read the letter at Bear Creek Recovery on Facebook). It’s fascinating to research how communities around the state, in trouble with “aging infrastructure”, have stepped up to comply with the Clean Water Act.
An inspiring tour of Wilsonville’s recently upgraded wastewater plant showed sewage processed in about 12 hours into water clean and cool enough for year around discharge into the Willamette River; no sewage lagoons are needed! Exceptional Class A biosolids are produced via 550 degree ovens and the dry biosolids are immediately trucked away, safe enough for home fertilizer.
Wilsonville hired CH2MHill to design, build and run their excellent wastewater plant. CH2MHill absorbed the existing employees; they follow a code of honor to promptly report problems. Wilsonville’s City Manager is thrilled with the CH2MHill contract because it is cost certain for the City, with CH2MHill is responsible for compliance, employees and violations.
The Dyer Partnership’s website has great examples of Oregon wastewater upgrade projects. Dyer’s engineer Steve Major acknowledged that fixing “aging infrastructure” comes with a cost. In his experience, cities of all sizes with DEQ compliance problems have raised their sewer rates to $70-$105/month.
On April 13 at 6:30 at the Molalla Library, Jon Gasik, DEQ Senior Environmental Engineer, will answer questions about wastewater permitting, compliance with the Clean Water Act, and financing wastewater improvements. Gasik will be an excellent resource for compliance success stories; he can also explain how urban growth could be halted if DEQ has concerns that a wastewater plant can’t handle more volume.
The City of Molalla should stop paying for whiny legal letters filled with weak excuses and commit to a robust upgrade of its wastewater program. If Molalla wants to grow, it must to grow its ability to comply with the Clean Water Act.