A guest post from Dave Lister
Dave Lister, an area businessman and former Portland City Council candidate, recently resigned from writing opinion columns for The Oregonian. Here he shares with our readers a new column. -- J.B.
by Dave Lister
Frank Fleck is on a mission. Fleck, a Lents resident and president of the Springwater Trail Preservation Society, is on a quest to protect his neighborhood’s property values, employment opportunities, and livability, which he believes have been jeopardized by the City of Portland’s fast-tracking a conditional use permit for a food-composting transfer facility right next to Johnson Creek at 101st Avenue and SE Foster Road.
In March of last year, Fleck, along with all the Lents residents living within four hundred feet of the proposed site, received a mailer. It advised them that Recology, Inc., the same company that has North Plains residents up in arms over the putrid odors coming from their Washington county composting operation, was seeking to expand their yard recycling transfer station to include food scraps collected by Portland’s new composting scheme, scheduled to go into effect at the end of October. In Fleck’s view, the selective mailing was just the first of several disingenuous acts on the part of the city.
"To begin with," Fleck said, "the impact of this site will extend much further than 400 feet, but the city was only conforming to the minimum legal requirement for notification. Most of the residents didn’t know anything about it." Fleck was equally disturbed by what appeared to be a rigged game at a Bureau of Developmental Services hearing to consider Recology's request on April 6th of last year. "The BDS hearings officer, Gregory Frank, approved Recology’s request to waive the 120 day appeal period virtually without discussion. That cut our appeal time to fourteen days. Why would the hearings officer offer that up to Recology on a platter?" Fleck asked. "It looked to us like the fix was in."
Despite their disappointment over the BDS hearing, Fleck and his allies looked for support at the county and state level. The Portland City Council received two letters dated July 7, 2011 urging them to reconsider Recology’s request, one from Multnomah County Commissioner Judy Shiprack and the other from Oregon State Senator Rod Monroe. Shiprack commended the city’s composting program but wrote "it is my view that the site on SE 101st is not the appropriate place to help achieve this goal." Monroe wrote: "It is my view that the site on SE 101st is not the appropriate place to help achieve your recycling goal, and we encourage you to consider the impact that this facility will have on the citizens near the site." Unfortunately, these protestations did not sway the city council. In October the council tentatively approved Recology’s request "with conditions." In November it gave Recology the green light by approving those conditions.
Fearing the worst, the Lents Neighborhood Association attempted to work out a "good neighbor" agreement with Recology to mitigate the operation's impact on the neighborhood, but the results have been disappointing. Recology rejected most of the neighborhood's proposed amendments, nine points in all, and the city pointed out that it had no authority to enforce any portion of what they considered to be a private agreement. With all other options exhausted, opponents of the site have now referred it to Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals, the final arbiter in the matter.
You can't help but wonder why the city is ignoring the neighborhood concerns, the environmental concerns over the possible impact on Johnson Creek, and the recreation concerns of the impact on the Springwater Trail. Fleck thinks that it simply comes down to the fact that Lents is, and always has been, the city's stepchild neighborhood. "We feel like the city has always treated us like a dumping ground, and now they want to put a dump here," he concluded.