Monday, December 3, 2012

Dead Stop: LUBA Remands Water Project Back to City

Posted By on Mon, Dec 3, 2012 at 11:05 PM

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In what is just about the perfect timing ever for opponents, a state board has told the city it must redo portions of its plan to upgrade a surface water project.
Critics of the project are calling it a victory. Meanwhile, a city official said the problems found by the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals “are fixable issues.”
Either way, the board has remanded the plan back to the city and the process of fixing it will require at least one public hearing.
It’s the opening the newly elected councilors and Jim Clinton have been seeking to get the entire surface water improvement project back on the drawing board.
“It does create a certain dead stop where we now have more time to discuss the various alternatives that might be available,” said Victor Chudowsky, who was elected to the council in November and will take office in January.

Both city staff, an incoming city councilor and Paul Dewey, the director of Central Oregon Landwatch who filed the appeal of the city’s plan with LUBA, expect that the city council will take up the remand of the decision itself and hold the public hearing rather than referring the issue to the city’s planning commission for review.
The big question will be whether the council will consider only the specific issues raised by the land use appeals board or whether the council will consider a much broader range of priorities for the city’s money than this current surface water improvement project.
“They aren’t restricted to considering the issues that came back from LUBA,” summarized Paul Dewey of Landwatch, “which is a real opportunity here.”
THE SPECIFICS
The Nov. 30 decision from LUBA is definitely a mixed answer to Landwatch’s appeal to the city’s water plan.
While, the board found several issues with the city’s plan for upgrading its water system, it also denied several complaints made by Landwatch, including complaints about the city not living up to its environmental goals.
Of the issues the city must address are two main problems.
First, LUBA said the city did not provide a specific enough description of the surface water improvement project in the plan, though the board did not say how much more detail was necessary.
“We only determine here that the level of detail the city has provided for the SWIP in the 2012 PFP that is before us in this appeal is inadequate,” according to the LUBA document.
The lack of specific detail has been a chief complaint from many vocal opponents to the project as well as people in the environmental community who spoke privately about their concerns with the project, saying it has been difficult to pin down exactly what the project was and therefore challenging to provide clear comment on it to the city.
Second, LUBA noted that the city hadn’t listed the surface water improvement project in all the correct locations of its larger water plan and there were some inconsistencies in references to the surface water improvement project.
It will be up to the city council to determine whether it will look at only these narrow issues.
An attorney for the city said it would be standard practice to do the narrow look.
“The city can, and in practice it almost always happens, that the remand is limited to the remand issue,” said Firestone.
It will be up to the new council, a majority of which oppose the surface water project in its current form, to make that determination.

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