Environmental study needed before Sweet Home can get homeless camp property | Local

Environmental, city and county officials confirmed the disruption to moving land for the proposed homeless camp at Sweet Home.

The so-called knife property, a southern sliver of the largest non-existent mill property in the middle of the Sweet Home, has been linked as a homeless shelter site. The back half of the same property is seen as an RV dump site, which county officials said is in short supply in Linn County.

Homeless shelters across Canada are feeling the stress of COVID-19 as the Omicron variant outbreak highlights growing concerns about residents’ safety.

The property is located off 24th Avenue, adjacent to Sweet Home Public Works. The south entrance to the former Weyerhauser/Wilamette Industries site is closed to traffic, effectively creating a street dead-end there.

Two weeks ago, the Lane County Board of Commissioners halted the transfer of land to Sweet Home after a discussion about the economic and environmental impacts of the surrounding area.

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But the need for an environmental study was the specific reason the county held off granting Sweet Home the land.

“The City of Sweet Home has requested that we do some environmental due diligence on this property before accepting ownership and we understand that,” Commissioner Roger Nyquist said.

But why, after a decade of environmental studies on the rest of that mill’s property, has this part not been examined before now? It seems that no one knows for sure.

Officials’ best guess: There were simply more pressing areas of concern, and this slipped through the cracks, in part because it was a bit of the bulk and it’s the last remaining silver streak south of the railroad tracks.

“The closest answer, at least guesswork at this point, is that there has been actual business activity on other parts of the property but not necessarily on that small part,” said Alex Ball, the county public information officer.

Sweet Home is not willing to accept the property until an environmental study is completed there, and preliminary work was already underway this week. Officials speculate that the activities of the former mills likely led to some kind of contamination.

“Obviously there is some kind of pollution on the property, but what it (Environmental Quality Management) is asking for there is part of it,” said Blair Larsen. “Obviously, when you bring up any type of residential property, you have to be clear.”

He guessed that any contaminants there could be dealt with by ‘covering’ the ground there, basically by placing concrete or some other slab over the top to prevent it from spreading or seeping into the groundwater. But if studies reveal something else, DEQ may require tougher cleaning efforts.

The result is that something that looked like a dead deal a month ago is now in a wait-and-see mode.

“We thought it was already done,” Larsen said of the environmental study. “But then when we looked at the procedure for the transfer of land ownership, we noticed that no Phase 1 study had been done on this part.”

The Phase 1 Environmental Study is the baseline examination for the DEQ. Depending on what the findings are, a Phase 2 study may be required. After any tests, the Environmental Quality Division makes recommendations on how to address pollution concerns if any.

Nyquist said there’s no way of knowing how long this will all take, but he hopes to get a clean bill of health on the property, so it can be moved in the next two months.

Troy Shen covers health care, natural resources, and the government of Linn County. He can be contacted at 541-812-6114 or troy.shinn@lee.net. He can be found on Twitter at @troydshinn.


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