Demo-happy developer eyes Northrup Market
By Thacher Schmid
What’s a deed restriction worth?
That’s the question raised after the April 28 sale of the old Northrup Food Market at
Northwest 21st and Northrup to George Fussell and John Hauser.
A deed restriction requires future owners to preserve the 1924 building for 10 years, but the ink hardly dried before drawings for a four-story, 46-unit mixed-use building on the
property reached the city Bureau of Development Services. The documents include no trace of the existing store.
Seller Jeff Baldwin, the eccentric heir to his parents’ former grocery store and the land under it, is at a loss to understand what is happening.
The new proposal, scheduled for an “informational” meeting with city staff Aug. 3, comes from one of the most controversial developers in recent city history. The preliminary filings were signed by Richard Rapp of TVA Architects and Vic Remmers,
owner and president of Everett Custom Homes. Remmers has been in the news in recent years over demolition of many Eastside houses and replacing them with high-density apartment buildings without off-street parking.
“How can they [propose a new development] when somebody else owns it?” Baldwin asked.
According to commercial real estate agent Mark Hush, managing director of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, the $1.1 million Baldwin got from Fussell and Hauser might have been half what he could have gotten without the deed restriction, a stipulation that may not be worth the paper it’s printed on.
Fussell, who beat out dozens of other would-be buyers by wooing Baldwin for a year, claims to have no knowledge of the proposal. He didn’t respond when a reporter emailed him a copy of the publicly available plans.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Fussell said. “That’s extremely interesting.”
Fussell has denied all along that his plans were to flip the building, but somehow the property wound up in the hands of parties who do not acknowledge the primacy of the deed restriction.
Remmers has so far declined to clarify his role. His spokeswoman, Mary Garofalo of PR public relations firm R/West, declined to comment.
“At this point, they [Everett Custom Homes] haven’t purchased the property, so it’s too early for a meeting or further comment,” Garofalo wrote.
The project architect, however, was somewhat more forthcoming.
“It’s a great site, yeah, we’re excited at the prospect of moving it forward,” said Rapp, who confirmed that the old market will would be razed. “It will go through a design review process. It should be good.”
If the project moves forward, it will trigger a Type 3 design review, which involves a public hearing before an administrative law judge. An appeal, if requested, would go directly to City Council.
Rapp declinedto share the architectural renderings with the Examiner.
“It’s hard to do that in advance of having the concept locked down, and a good feeling for the budget,” he said. “You don’t want to mislead people. It’ll be a transparent public process.”
Ownership of a property is not required to move forward with a development, BDS spokesman Ross Caron said. The Aug. 3 meeting between applicants and BDS staff is not open to the public.
It’s not the city’s job to enforce deed restrictions, and land-use applications don’t require the signature of the property owner, just a “responsibility statement” signed by the applicant or its agent.
Meanwhile, Baldwin said he will “absolutely” sue to enforce the deed restriction if the development moves forward.
“That won’t happen,” he said when shown images of the proposed development.
Given the property’s history as a neglected eyesore amid affluence, many neighbors may cheer the new development. The city’s nuisance enforcement chief, Mike Liefeld, said he knows of no other similarly high-profile property in Northwest Portland with as many complaints.
Part of a plan?
“It’s pretty obvious that these guys had a plan to manipulate Jeff from the beginning,” said Hush, whose efforts to persuade Baldwin to list the property with him failed.
As reported in June, Fussell went to great lengths to gain Baldwin’s confidence, even attending a UFO festival in McMinnville with him.
Hush and other real estate professionals suspect Fussell and Hauser have a contingency agreement with Remmers, who will close the sale if and when he obtains city approval to build.
“They had to have thought this out before they did it,” Hush said. “They have to know what the plan is. There’s something out there to get Jeff out of the way. … I’m sure they’re going to get a bank loan to construct a project of this size. The bank’s not going to give them a loan without clear title.”
Real estate attorney Ann Fisher said the only person who can enforce a real estate deed is the person who sold it—Baldwin.
“I think a developer would have an obligation to try to heed the restriction, but if the developer determined that the building could not be preserved—too much damage, too dangerous, too expensive to maintain, they could tear it down,” Fisher wrote in an email. “There would be only the prior owner to try to enforce the limitation, and he would have to show that the safety of the building was such that it could be preserved.”
In other words, even if Baldwin does sue, the junk filling the building and parking lot, the presence of homeless people living on the property and the history of nuisance complaints will weigh against him.
“At the end of the day, I don’t see any of the neighbors coming to the rescue of Jeff
Baldwin,” Hush said. “I don’t think he’s endeared himself to the neighborhood.”
Although Baldwin talks of going to court, Hush doubts he will.
“Having spent a year with him, they [Fussell and Hauser] probably know that even though he says he’s going to sue, he probably will not.”
Visit NWExaminer.com or the NW Examiner Facebook page to view the public documents for the proposed development.
The two homeless men who live on the Northrup Market site, Jerry Vermillion and Dave (no last name given), may be out of luck if the property is redeveloped.
Jerry Vermillion, who calls the building’s front alcove home, figures he’ll roll with the punches. In fact, he said things have been “wonderful” for him lately.
Vermillion says he was tipped $340—the contents of a man’s wallet—as the result of the June Examiner cover story, “Strange Sale.”
He’s also on the management track at his job pumping gas at the Astro Gas Station across the street from the market.
“Even to bust my ass and get on management track, I still can’t afford the rent in Portland,” he said.
“I’m moving on up. [But] whatever happens, I’m out of a place to stay. I really don’t know where to go.”
For a half-century, the Linnton Plywood Association mill was a model of worker ownership and democratic control of the workplace. Everyone, from the general manager to the guy who ran the Raimann patcher machine—what one former worker called “a real brain-dead job”—made the same hourly wage, and each had an equal voice at annual membership meetings.
All of that was crowned by the promise of an ample retirement from ownership shares that at one point sold for $90,000.
But things went sour after the mill closed in 2001. Lawsuits divided workers into opposing camps. A mandate to liquidate the property as soon as possible dragged on for 14 years as offers were rebuffed, reserves depleted and the property value plummeted due in part to Superfund liabilities.
Many blame General Manager Jimmy Stahly and Secretary-Treasurer Gail Holter, who kept drawing full-time paychecks until at least 2012 for overseeing an idle plant. The property at last sold in September for $5.75 million, but the $2.6 million that will trickle to former workers or their heirs is likely to disappoint—and it’s still not clear if or when that money will be disbursed.
To understand the disillusionment, one must first appreciate the American dream represented by the co-op.
In 1984, the Linnton Plywood Association made the first edition of “100 Best Companies to Work For in America,” whose authors noted that LPA members made $50,000 in a good year, not including their share of retained earnings in the company.
The co-op also prospered. In 1971, it purchased its 26-acre riverfront site from railroads.
Ownership had both economic and intrinsic meaning.
“I knew when I bought this share that I wasn’t going to be just another employee, that I in a way was working for myself,” wrote Barry and Debbie Axtell. “I ‘owned’ part of this company.”
“There were Cadillacs, campers and Corvettes in the parking lot,” former LPA Board President Jeff Ingebrigtsen recalled.
“On hot summer days, Robert Peterson said. “we’d … get a break and there’d be a single file line going up to the Decoy [restaurant].”
“Them [were] good times there,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’ll be working here the rest of my life.’”
“We were like a family,” said Rich Mares. “We didn’t really have any hard feelings against each other.”
“We had a better man-hour production than union mills,” Tom Nelson added.
Annual accountants’ reports provided by Ingebrigtsen show that between 1973 and 1989, everybody got $13.05 per hour.
By 1990, the year the Northern Spotted Owl became an endangered species—putting a crimp on the logging of old growth forests—LPA’s years in the black were over.
“This industry used to be 155 [plywood] plants from the Canadian border to Northern California,” recalls Charles Mintken, a former manager in the industry who once rented space from the LPA. “Today, I think there’s probably 19.”
“I worked there the last year the mill made a profit, and I didn’t see a pretty picture at the end of the road,” Peterson said, “so I moved on.”
Many of LPA’s 200 members left, accepting retraining at community colleges and jobs as longshoremen. A smaller group, including Stahly and Holter, soldiered on.
“They should have flushed it, sold the damn thing, taken the $10,000 or $15,000 home, but they didn’t,” Mintken said. “It’s hard to sell the plant in an industry that’s going in the toilet, but you gotta do it.”
In 1992, the mill closed temporarily. LPA members began to receive annual loss letters signed by Holter.
On Oct. 22, 2001, the board and membership voted to liquidate by the end of the year.
It’s doubtful they understood the full consequences of having waited too long. In 2000, the EPA designated the Portland Harbor, including Linnton Plywood’s 26 acres, as a Superfund site.
LPA battled the feds in court, in United States v. LPA, but lost. In the end, a June 2015 settlement handed much of $5.75 million in sale proceeds to the Environmental Protection Agency, attorneys and county taxes. A total of $500,000 goes to the Portland Harbor remediation account, and $2.6 million will be distributed to LPA members due to a lien from a 2014 settlement, Weiss v. LPA.
In Weiss, members who left their jobs before the mill closed sued the co-op for a 2002 bylaw change that favored the members who worked until the end. LPA’s lawyer argued the bylaw change would make distribution of sale more “equitable.”
Former workers, who were not notified of the bylaw modification vote, accepted $2.6 million to settle.
Letters submitted by former LPA members in support of the Weiss claim contain bitter recriminations.
“Even though I had retired, I did not leave the mill or quit,” wrote Max M. Smith, who died earlier this year. “They are trying to tell me that I don’t deserve an equal share in any profits that may come from the sale of Linnton Plywood.”
“No accounting of the profits from the sale of the equipment and lumber in Linnton Plywood Association has ever been sent to the shareholders,” wrote the children of founding LPA member Herbert A. Randall. “Where did this money go?”
A letter from Ronald E. Thomas accuses managers of cooking the books.
“Phony W-2s were issued overstating earnings of the association, and these W-2s were used by individuals for the filing of federal, state, TriMet and Social Security taxes.”
Deals fall through
Suspicion of bad faith grew over the years after imminent sales were rumored but never came to fruition. Former members say the LPA board and top managers Stahly and Holter did not hold membership meetings or share information.
Portland developer John Beardsley submitted a $6 million written offer for the site in 2005. With a financial interest in deferring capital gains taxes, Beardsley Building Development went so far as to purchase a billboard in Linnton to woo the co-op.
In a recent interview, Beardsley and Carrollo said the mill’s “for sale” sign was half-buried in weeds and Stahly unhelpful. “Often times, if I came [to his office], he would try to either not let me in or escape through the back door,” Beardsley recalled.
In the end, Beardsley was advised that the LPA board “accepted another purchase offer from one of two other offerers,” shows an email he wrote, dated September 19, 2005.
Beardsley called Stahly’s actions “despicable.”
“It’s just a crying shame,” Beardsley said. “[The association] isn’t meant for the benefit of any single person; it’s meant for the benefit of all. That was the spirit of Linnton Plywood.”
Former Board President Ingebrigtsen told the NW Examiner that Stahly and Holter delayed the sale of the mill in order to continue receiving salaries of $10,000 and $9,000 per month, respectively. Ingebrigtsen said Stahly and Holter began receiving that amount after the closure and continued to do so until the money ran out.
“We haven’t seen any financial records since we closed,” Ingebrigtsen said.
Asked how he knows the amount of their salaries, Ingebrigtsen said, “I was told by several board members. Jimmy told me too. Gail was getting nine-something; Jimmy, 10-something. To run an empty mill.
“They pretty much absconded with the funds, and the board approved it,” he said. “Nobody expected it to go on for  years, but it did.”
Stahly and Holter did not respond to interview requests until they were presented with a draft of this story late last month.
“It is disappointing to read some of the comments you attribute to our former colleagues and others,” reads Stahly’s two-page response. “Those comments are almost entirely false.
“First and foremost, the allegation that Gail Holter and I intentionally delayed the sale of LPA’s property in order to continue drawing compensation from the company is false.
“The delay … was due entirely to the fact that the mill is located in the middle of a federal Superfund site — a fact that made it exceedingly difficult to find a buyer for the property and, once a buyer was found, to resolve the environmental and regulatory issues that stood in the way.”
Stahly doesn’t apologize for drawing a paycheck through 2012.
“It is not unusual for a company’s former managers to be paid for this kind of work,” he wrote.
“Our payroll was approved by the board of directors at levels that were commensurate with the work involved and industry standards,” he continued. “In fact, [Ingebrigtsen’s] quoted figures are more than 50 percent higher than our actual salaries.”
Stahly claims he and Holter sometimes worked from home and were not paid by the hour.
“It would have been rare for us to work less than 30 hours per week,” Stahly wrote.
His former co-workers don’t believe a word of it.
“They weren’t even there,” Frank L’Amie said of Stahly and Holter’s work pattern after the closure.
“I think they came in once a week,” Rich Mares said.
“I could come down once a week for $120,000,” L’Amie said, smiling. “Then go have a beer at the Decoy,” Mares said.
One woman who answered the phone of a former LPA member spoke bitterly of the pair.
“I think they manufactured themselves a job,” she said. “That’s the honest truth.”
Then she began crying and begged the reporter not to use her name, saying, “I don’t want them coming against us. … We’re in our 90s, and we’re not well.”
“Something needs to be done to hold these men accountable,” Barry and Debbie Axtell wrote in a letter supporting Weiss.
“I know somebody went to [state Senator] Betsy Johnson, trying to get the attorney general to look into it,” Jim Lomnicky said.
Ultimately, responsibility for the co-op’s costly drawn-out death lies with the board, which appears never to have had another election after the 2001 closure.
Former board members Bob Thomas, Steve Fowler, Marty Erhardt and Claude Leonard all declined to comment. Former LPA President Eugene Elsey died in 2014.
One former LPA board member claimed poor hearing.
Claude Leonard’s wife warned a reporter that her husband couldn’t hear.
“Oh, no, I can hear,” Leonard contradicted, taking the phone. But after a question or two, he deferred. “You better call somebody else because I have just had a cochlear implant put in my ear. I’m sorry to say you got the guy right now who can’t hear.”
Thomas was more interested in asking questions.
“Who told you that?” he asked. “You hear a lot of rumors.”
“We finally got rid of it,” Thomas said of the property, “and I think that’s about all there is to say about it.”
Mintken described co-op elections as “popularity contests,” and said many cooperatives’ managers and board came from the general workforce and didn’t understand the larger industry issues.
“A lot of [the board] didn’t have a lot of business sense,” Ingebrigtsen said.
Stahly, on the other hand, has a master’s degree in business. He said he accepted the task of liquidating the mill instead of taking “other opportunities that would have paid me comparable or better compensation.”
The opportunity certainly saved on commuting time. His home, built in 1908 by a magnate of the Clark & Wilson Lumber Co., which operated on the LPA site until 1948, overlooks the mill.
The LPA property sold in September to Linnton Water Credits LLC and RestorCap, a California environmental restoration company. RestorCap partner Andrew Gregg, in charge of the LPA project, did not return calls or emails, but court documents show RestorCap is mandated to convert the site to salmon habitat. RestorCap makes money from the sale of credits “that can be used to offset land based environmental degradation,” its website states — part of a bold new environmental economy.
A post-closure estimate document provided by the EPA shows the sale was for $5.75 million. The 2014 settlement in US v. LPA noted that LPA is responsible for $11 million in “unreimbursed past costs” and “past unreimbursed natural resource damages,” but found the sale of the LPA property and insurance proceeds to be sufficient.
Former LPA members still have no idea if, when or how much they will see. The EPA document shows a $2.6 million payment for the LPA from the Weiss lien: $2.48 million to be made to 199 listed LPA members for the 2003 settlement ($12,462 each, if divided equally), plus $130,000 for “par value” of membership stock.
There’s also a payment of $433,167 to Lane Powell, whose attorney, Bill Hutchison, has long represented the LPA. Ed Trompke, the Weiss attorney, got $25,000.
When can LPA members finally expect their checks?
“I really don’t know,” Stahly said, peering out from behind gray tinted glasses.
(Photo credits: Wesley Mahan / NW Examiner unless otherwise indicated.)
An airline pilot by trade, Andy Cochran is a pragmatist, a boots-on-the-ground guy with an easy smile and direct style. They’re qualities that serve him well as head of Linnton’s Neighborhood Emergence Team, a group of 22 trained by the city to respond to natural disasters.
At a spot near railroad tracks in central Linnton, Cochran unlocks a padlock on a gray shipping container and moves rakes out of the way.
“Half this stuff is for gardeners and half is for emergencies,” he says, laughing.
He digs through emergency equipment and pulls out an Icom two-way radio. In a recent drill, he says, the team planned to use the radio to communicate with Fire Station 22 in St. Johns.
“We couldn’t hear a thing,” Cochran says.
The city has ordered a new antenna for the radio. What he doesn’t say is the St. Johns Bridge may itself fail in an earthquake, cutting Linnton off from the station.
“We have really bad infrastructure up here in Linnton,” Cochran says. “It’s a great neighborhood,. I love it, but as far as an emergency, it’s a bad one.”
That isn’t the half of it.
In July, a couple of months after joining the city’s Bureau of Emergency Management (PBEM) team under an 18-month federal grant, Danielle Butsick’s email inboxes started filling up with an article, sent 30 times by family, friends and colleagues. “The Really Big One,” by Kathryn Schulz in The New Yorker, details how the next major Pacific Northwest earthquake will “spell the worst natural disaster in the history of the continent.”
The article drew a figurative target on Portland. The bullseye of that target would be Linnton.
“Together, the sloshing, sliding, and shaking will trigger fires, flooding, pipe failures, dam breaches and hazardous-material spills,” the article says. It quotes a FEMA official, “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”
PBEM spokesman Dan Douthit says the article “rang a bell that’s still resonating.” A seismic retrofit program for Portland homeowners, passed with support from Rep. Earl Blumenauer, found a mere 23 takers in 2014, he said. But when an expanded version was announced in July, 4,800 applications poured in.
The people in the know are focused on Linnton.
“We’re actually going to do a Linnton-specific risk assessment,” Douthit said, the first time PBEM has done a risk assessment for a neighborhood.
“We recently administered [$385,482 in] predisaster mitigation funds for an overall update to Portland’s Hazard Mitigation Plan,” wrote Chris Grogan of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management in an email. “Part of the update includes developing strategies to address potential issues at Linnton and determine future projects that will make the facility more resilient.”
Much of Linnton’s infrastructure was built before Oregonians realized the region has earthquakes, and facilities—some 100 years old—weren’t designed to seismic standards, Butsick said.
“We want create a balance between the need for energy infrastructure and its importance to our city and state, but we also want to do all that we can to ensure the safety of Linnton residents,” she added.
What’s the particular problem in Linnton?
To emergency planners, Linnton is the state’s CEI hub. CEI stands for “critical energy infrastructure,” and includes the Olympic Pipeline, petroleum tank farms, natural gas facilities, electrical substations and transmission lines and hazardous material-carrying railroad cars.
“Ninety percent of Oregon’s refined petroleum products come through the CEI hub, and natural gas is stored [in] and passes through the hub,” wrote spokesperson Ali Ryan Hansen of the state Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) in an email.
“Fuel supplies are concentrated in facilities that may or may not be earthquake ready. Development started 100 years ago, with no or insufficient seismic features, and little regulation on structures. Tanks, pipes and piers may be deficient. Oregon will need those fuel supplies to respond to and recover from a major earthquake.”
Yumei Wang’s 2012 DOGAMI report may be the most important work done to date — and its assessment is troubling.
“Significant seismic risk exists in the CEI Hub,” the study says. “Some critically important structures appear to be susceptible to significant damage in a major earthquake with potentially catastrophic consequences. Multiple liquid fuel transmission pipe breaks and natural gas transmission pipe breaks are possible. Damage to liquid fuel, natural gas, and electrical facilities in the CEI Hub is likely. The waterway would likely be closed and require clean up. … Damage to the electrical grid will likely result in a blackout in the CEI Hub and elsewhere.”
Much of the Linnton CEI hub facilities lie on liquefiable sandy soil and fill, so when the shaking starts, facilities may experience lateral movement of 10 to 25 feet, likely sliding toward the river. Underground structures could be lifted toward the surface, damaging pipelines, piers and electrical transmission lines.
Then there’s the fault line directly under Highway 30 near the Olympic Pipeline. The area is prone to landslides, and soil conditions are also liquefiable soft, sandy fill.
The main escape routes, the St. Johns Bridge and Highway 30, could both become impassable in a major quake.
Long accustomed to cohabitating with heavy industry, Linnton residents don’t mince words when asked about the Big One.
“It’ll be a short time, and you’ll be a crispy critter in a heartbeat,” said James Schulze, who has lived in his home for 25 years. “If those things go up”—Schulze nods at the enormous tanks a stone’s throw from his porch—“you wouldn’t have time to climb the hills.”
“I’ll be happy to be floating,” said resident Leslie Freres, who often stays on a houseboat. “It is kind of frightening.”
Linnton’s seismic risk is close to home for companies such as BP, Kinder Morgan, NW Natural, the Olympic Pipeline Co., Nu-Star Inc. and Portland & Western Railroad, a subsidiary of Genesee & Wyoming Inc. But the companies are reluctant to talk about their CEI hub facilities.
“We’re trying to reach out to them,” Butsick said. “I’m not sure if we have found the correct people to reach out to yet.”
Only Kinder Morgan responded to requests for comment for this story. An email to the Olympic Pipeline Co., owned and operated by BP Pipelines North America, was not returned. BP’s Pam Brady said she would “email the PR team,” but no response came. A phone call to Portland & Western General Manager Kevin Haugh was not returned. Gloria Zacharias at Business Oregon’s Seismic Rehabilitation Grant Program did not return a call and email.
Melissa Ruiz of Kinder Morgan said her company responds to and coordinates with federal, state and local agencies to ensure safety as part of its normal operations.
“We just had a drill this week in Linnton,” Ruiz said. “We do unannounced drills.”
“We pretty much have to raise our hand and ask permission for everything.”
Ruiz shared a list of inspections, contacts and drills at the Kinder Morgan facilities in Linnton and Willbridge Terminal. The company is in touch with a broad range of public agencies, fire departments, schools, parks, sheriff and police departments, and city and state officials.
But the company shared little about seismic risk, and Ruiz did not answer a question about the age of or retrofitting of Kinder Morgan assets in Linnton.
“[Local] companies aren’t going to tell you all the bad things that could happen,” Cochran said. “We can only just guess, and we can look at what’s happened in other places.”
DOGAMI spokesperson Ryan Hansen said the state senate closed a legal loophole this year that could have been perceived as a reason for energy companies not to reveal seismic risks or potential problems in their facilities.
“There is a gap, and it’s a complex one, between resilience and the current reality,” Hansen wrote. “Action by multiple players … is needed. … Senate Bill 775, which passed in this last session, contributes to that by making any vulnerability assessments, or measures to reduce vulnerability, that are intended to minimize impacts not admissible to prove negligence. For some energy companies, that may have been a barrier.”
An acronym soup of agencies have some role in crisis response (FEMA, DOGAMI, EPA, USDOT, PHMSA, OPDR, ODUC, OPEC, USGC, PBEM, NET, ECHO, LEPC), but it’s not clear how they would respond, or how those efforts would be coordinated.
“There’s a lot of players right there,” said Ryan Ike, spokesman for FEMA Region X, when asked whose job earthquake preparedness is in Linnton.
Risks on rails
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s upcoming Linnton-specific risk assessment may tighten rules on hazmat-carrying railroad tanker cars. It’s not clear whether Portland & Western cars in Linnton carry Bakken crude, but Linnton Neighborhood Association President Shawn Looney and other residents want to know. Looney has recorded varied hazmat placards on Linnton-based railroad cars and tractor-trailer trucks.
“Within the past year,” Looney wrote via email, she had seen diesel fuel, flammable adhesives, flammable alcohols, “Toxic, N.O.S.” [not otherwise specified], alcohols N.O.S, crude oil, butane mixture and gasoline/gasohol.
Last May, federal rules became more stringent for railroad cars carrying hazardous materials, said Gordon Delcambre, spokesperson for the USDOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Delcambre said railroads will be required to add a thicker shell on tank cars, security plates on the front and back, greater thermal protection and other safety features depending on how hazardous the cargo is.
When a reporter listed Linnton’s seismic risks—petroleum pipelines, tank farms and hazmat-laden railroad cars—Delcambre replied: “Ouch.”
Delcambre said pipeline operators are “required to determine whether their pipelines are at risk of … earthquakes … and to take appropriate measures to protect their pipeline system.” The company is required to conduct frequent patrols before or during natural hazards, determine if a pipeline is at risk of becoming exposed or damaged and “address any threats to a pipeline’s integrity.”
Meanwhile, many Linntonites fear the worst.
“It’s totally insane to have over 90 percent of our fuel sources located in Linnton Willbridge, which is mostly a liquefaction zone,” said Linnton resident Darise Weller, who also recently started working with local emergency planners. “That’s the fuel source for the entire region, so it’s not only going to affect Linnton when it goes, it will affect the entire area. And it will go.”
“The fire department said to us, ‘In an earthquake, you’re on your own,’ because they won’t be able to get across the bridge to us,” Weller added.
True to form, Cochran sees a silver lining.
“In some ways [Linnton’s] isolation would be a good thing, because we’re a real community, we know our neighbors, everybody knows each other, and I don’t see a sense of lawlessness happening here.”
This article appeared in the July 2015 issue of the NW Examiner:
LINNTON’S STUBBORN DREAM
Industrial Interests Keep Lid on Hopes for a ‘Complete Community’
By Thacher Schmid
If the Linnton neighborhood is to get its “village,” its “complete community,” as envisioned by its leaders for decades, it will need some help from City Hall.
The Portland Planning & Sustainability Commission is expected to add its stamp to the 2035 Comprehensive Plan draft July 14, and then it will be up to the City Council to consider or reconsider assumptions that the need to preserve “heavy industrial” lands trumps local hopes for revitalizing the neighborhood’s Northwest Front Avenue center, now a sparse scattering of businesses and aging homes.
Linntonites have long coexisted peacefully with heavy industry. But Portland’s annex of the area and 1960 widening of U.S. Highway 30 brought the demolition of half of Linnton’s downtown. Ever since, locals have fought for the city to make good on promises to rebuild Linnton’s core.
Now, despite an uphill battle every bit as steep as the Linnton hillside, and City Council’s nay vote on the Linnton Village Plan in 2006, the issue is again on the Linnton Neighborhood Association agenda.
“Everyone on the neighborhood association and board is in agreement that Linnton wants that to be rezoned,” said LNA President Shawn Looney.
She meant the area bounded by the railroad tracks, the Willamette Greenway corridor, and Northwest 107th and 112th avenues. The strip of stores, restaurants and gas stations between the tracks and Highway 30 is zoned mixed commercial.
City planners are prioritizing “more stringent retention” of prime harbor industrial land, according to Steve Kountz at the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability.
“The intent is partly to retain the unique infrastructure advantages of these areas as Oregon’s freight infrastructure hub and partly to meet 20-year land needs for forecast industrial job growth,” Kountz wrote in an email.
Heavy industrial lands, the theory goes, reduce gentrification by providing scarce family wage jobs.
Linnton’s core is changing, zoning codes notwithstanding. Restorcap’s plans to turn the shuttered Linnton Plywood Mill into restored habitat on the south end and a plan to put a community garden in Kingsley Park on the north end suggest heavy industry’s not the only thing the neighborhood is capable of supporting.
Linntonites say the river is too shallow and Front Avenue property too minuscule to interest new heavy industrial companies.
“That property is never going to be industrially developed,” said Edward Jones, past LNA president. “It’s been sitting there for years and nothing’s happened.”
“The reason why the city’s holding so tight to this is there’s a shortage of industrial land,” said Leslie Lum, a city planner who has met with Linnton residents. “We don’t have enough land. That’s why the conversation is going the way it is.”
That might come as news to Linntonites, considering much of the splinter-shaped neighborhood is almost the exclusive province of heavy industry.
Linnton residents could be forgiven for thinking local leaders don’t much care about this scrappy little community. Despite all Linnton’s history, it does not merit the tiniest of four sizes of circles used to identify neighborhoods, towns, regional and city centers on comprehensive plan maps. Kountz explained that Linnton’s small population disqualifies it for a circle because there are not “3,500 households within a half-mile walking distance.”
“I don’t think they should circle out the oldest community,” said LNA board member Sarah Taylor. “Somebody’s making a lot of money by not putting that circle there. … At this point, if they don’t create a neighborhood hub in Linnton, they’re going to end up with a strip mall from here to St. Helens.”
There are other signs of how regional planners see Linnton. Just past Sauvie Island, a roadside sign sitting on Portland land greets Highway 30 motorists headed downtown with “Portland 10 [miles].”
The implication? You’re not in Portland. You’re 10 miles away in some “drive-through neighborhood,” said Looney.
The iPhone app she uses to look up hazmat signs on tanker cars along the railroad lines in Linnton suggests another apt phrase for Linnton: industrial sanctuary. Priorities expressed by industrial stakeholders in the Working Waterfront Coalition, which helped defeat the Linnton Village Plan in 2005-2006, center on things like “multimodal freight, rail and harbor access” and the safety of local petroleum tank farms.
Diane Niemeyer at Harmer Steel Products Co., an anchor Front Avenue business, said safety is a reason not to rezone.
“There’s only two ways in and out of here,” Niemeyer said. “If you have a doctor’s appointment and the train’s blocking, you’re stuck, if there are emergency vehicles you’re stuck. You have to wait for 20 to 30 minutes to get out.”
But the city’s comprehensive plan contains language about “equity” and “history,” and it shows a green line for “trails: existing and proposed” down to the river from where Front Avenue and 107th come together by the old mill. River access is a related fight that Linnton leaders have been waging for decades.
“There’s a big vision that we have, and we’re trying to put together a real- ly exciting plan,” Taylor said. “Our hope is that the area above the wetland where the office is could maybe be an environmental education center that could take kids into Forest Park.”
A heavyweight mix of business and government, the Working Waterfront Coalition, appears ready to fight any “exciting plans” for Linnton. Its website doesn’t list its members but links with a Facebook page called “Portland Harbor: Behind the Scenes Tour and Lecture Series.” A phone number on the Facebook page rings Brooke Berglund, community affairs manager for Port of Portland.
The WWC website’s only listed contact is Executive Director Ellen Wax, a former senior planner with the city. A reporter’s email to Wax brought a call from Phil Grillo, a local land-use attorney.
“If there’s any new effort, the WWC would have to know about it, and then we’d have to consider it,” said Grillo, who cited Gunderson, Schnitzer Steel, Kinder Morgan and the Port of Portland as WWC members. “There have been major concerns about [rezoning the Front Avenue area] in the past, and I imagine there will be major concerns about something like that in the future.”
Past LNA President Pat Wagner spoke at a June 23 hearing on the 2035 plan before the Planning and Sustainability Commission.
“If the dream of dreams can come true [in Linnton], and it can,” she said, zoning changes could allow for “maybe a tiny house community” near the restoration of the old plywood mill site.
“Several months ago,” responded Commissioner Chris Smith, “we had the discussion about whether Linnton should be a neighborhood center or not.
“Linnton did not get in any of the [PSC] investment quadrants, and I expressed deep regret because for decades my friends in Linnton [have been] trying to achieve their dream of a complete community, and the fact that it really doesn’t fit our parameters. We hashed that one out, and sadly …” Smith trailed off.
“Its time may come,” another commissioner responded, “its time may come.” •
This piece appeared in the July 2015 issue of the NW Examiner:
SAUVIE ISLANDERS FIGHT TOXIC DUMPING
Corps of Engineers says dredging sediment is ‘suitable for in-water placement’
By Thacher Schmid
The Army Corps of Engineers sent public notice to a small group of Sauvie Island residents about a plan to dump sediment dredged from the Swan Island Lagoon off Sauvie Island beaches on May 26. By late June, a growing number of Sauvie Island residents had organized letter-writing campaigns and meetings at the local grange hall expressing their concerns.
Corps official Michelle Helms said the material to be dredged from the berth of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bluebell was properly evaluated and is suitable for “in-water placement.” But she declined to share the test results from the sediment other than to say they were carried out by a cross-agency group called the Portland Sediment Evaluation Team.
An email from an EPA official with knowledge of the testing of the Bluebell sediment said tests found several highly toxic materials: PCBs, arsenic and PAHs or “polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.”
It’s the last thing one would associate with Sauvie Island, an idyllic tourist attraction that receives 1.8 million annual visitors, some of whom swim on beaches downriver from the proposed dumping area.
That email, from Kristine Koch, an environmental cleanup project manager for the EPA, to Travis Williams, executive director of the Willamette Riverkeeper, appears to confirm fears of Sauvie Island residents who have already brought three local TV stations to the island and are busy writing every government agency and politician they can think of.
While relatively small, the 1,000-cubic-yard dredge job reveals some of the uncertainties underlying Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup planning. The EPA’s draft feasibility study will “lay out different cleanup options” this summer, Williams said.
The Corps’ comment period closed June 25 for the Bluebell dredge proposal, but island residents say they’re concerned about the Corps’ refusal to share information and limited notification about the plan. Only about eight residents whose homes face the placement area received the public notice, according to Julie and Richard Holmason and Marion Skoro, founder of Marion’s Carpets.
“Nobody has said why here [off Sauvie Island],” said Julie Holmason. “The Corps said, ‘I can’t answer that.’ It’s because it’s cheap. What’s more important, it’s going to cost more money, or you’re jeopardizing the health of many hundreds of people that are playing on these beaches?”
“Our membership is very concerned about the health and safety of our community and the wildlife in and around the Columbia River,” says Pam Vetsch, master of the island’s Grange #840.
“I think we need some verifiable proof that it is, or it isn’t [toxic],” said John Houle, head of the Sauvie Island Community Association. “It’s incumbent on the Corps to prove that point.”
Despite listing the contaminants, Koch of the EPA said the material “may be suitable for in-water placement at Morgan Bar.” But she also notes that two samples taken were collected near the surface of the sediment to be dredged, because “coarse sediments were encountered. … so we need to assume they are representative of the whole dredge prism.”
Deeper layers of sediment could be more toxic than those nearer the surface, said Willamette Riverkeeper’s Williams. Some of the most toxic contaminants in the harbor were released decades ago, before modern environmental laws like the Clean Water Act.
“If we don’t even have a full characterization of that 5-foot depth, then how can they provide the reassurance to those homeowners that you don’t have more toxic materials below that surface sample, assuming they’re dredging 5 feet in depth?” Williams asked.
The Corps notice says “grab samples” will be taken, and if “exceedances of screening levels are detected, then a clean sand cover would be placed over the dredged footprint.”
1980s dumping recalled
This isn’t Sauvie Island residents’ first dustup with the Corps. Back in the 1980s, Richard Holmason said, Corps barges would come at night, dumping in the same Morgan Bar area under the glare of floodlights. Local residents “raised hooey” after the dumps impacted beach quality and fishing, and debris started washing up onshore, he said.
Julie Holmason has old digital photos of what looked like a pan full of gooey brownies, sludge she said washed up after a Corps dump. Those dumps, however, were from normal Corps chan- nel dredging, not Portland Harbor Superfund sites.
“This time, I think we’re raising more hooey,” said Richard Holmason.
“We’ll see what happens,” Skoro said. “If I call family, it’s 115 of us here, and I’m sure more people will come and join us.”
Northwest Gillihan Road residents who received the notices have been the most active, but an island grange meeting in late June drew 35 people, including some from Hayden Island, Julie Holmason said. The Sauvie Island Community Association is opposing the Corps proposal as well.
Helms emphasized that “this is not a Corps of Engineers project; this is a project that we have a regulatory role in.” Though the work itself will almost certainly be carried out by the Corps, which does heavy dredg- ing in the Portland Harbor area, Helms contends the Corps is merely regulating the applicant, the U.S. Coast Guard.
“We want to maintain the navigable capacity of the water resources. Part of our role is to maintain that, but we’re also looking to protect aquatic resources,” Helms said.
The Coast Guard’s 70-year-old cut- ter Bluebell is a much-loved local vessel known for helping Vanport flood victims in 1948 and generations of service maintaining buoys on the Columbia, Willamette and Snake rivers. Responding to islanders’ concerns, the Coast Guard and Corps staff set up an informational meeting July 1 downtown, Helms said. Julie Holmason said islanders were told the meeting was limited to 10 and was for Sauvie Island residents only.
While Helms said the Corps is following its normal testing and notification procedures, she admits this project is unique.
“This is not the kind of dredging project the Corps [usually] does,” Helms said. “This is very different than what we typically do for navigation maintenance.”
Islanders’ skepticism is partly based their history with the Corps.
“Based on past evidence, the Army Corps of Engineers has given me little faith in their ability to follow through with their stated commit- ment to clean up, or cease work if ‘indications of contamination’ are observed,” said Gillihan Road residents Don Young and Martha Berndt.
“They’re gonna have hell if I find junk in there,” said Skoro in his Croatian accent, still imposing at 76.
Sitting in his spacious riverfront mansion, Skoro showed a reporter photos of the sturgeon he’s caught— one of which he claims was 14 feet long. He said the river was at its lowest point in his quarter century of observation, echoing Holmason’s concerns that dumped sediment often does not wash downriver as the Corps plan describes.
The Corps notice warns that “[t] he described activity may affect an endangered or threatened species or its critical habitat.”
A state Fish and Wildlife official did not return a phone call about the reference by deadline, but Williams suggested that spring Chinook and winter steelhead could be affected. Some Sauvie Island residents fear Sturgeon Lake habitat could be impacted.
Beyond its character as a tourist destination, or less-publicized culture of wealthy retirees, Sauvie Island residents’ love of the river is paramount.
“We live next to the river, we see its seasonal changes throughout the year, and we love it,” said Houle. “We realize that it’s a very potentially powerful Mother Nature that we just have this abiding shared life with.” ■
This piece appeared in the June 2015 issue of the NW Examiner:
Community garden to knit the town split by a highway
Fundraising begins for a garden in Linnton between the highway and railroad track
BY THACHER SCHMID
If you’re a big vegetable person like Amanda Munro, who gets enthusiastic about onions, spring salad, potatoes and zucchini, getting a new community garden is cause for celebration anywhere.
But for Munro and other residents of Linnton, the promise embodied in a community garden goes beyond cucumbers to the point where it touches old wounds. Like the loss of the community’s downtown during the widening of St. Helens Road (U.S. 30) from two to four lanes. Or its legacy of industrial pollution near the center of the Portland Harbor Superfund site.
At the May Linnton Neighborhood Association meeting, Community Gardens Program Coordinator Laura Niemi announced that Portland Parks & Recreation has decided to move forward with a garden at Kingsley Park after receiving enthu- siastic support from the neighborhood. The project will require fundraising of $40,000 to $50,000 for a water line, parking and fencing improvements, she said. But with 28 people wanting plots, a new steering committee and strong fundraising outlook, the garden seems likely to become reality.
“It’s been a long time coming,” says Rob Lee, secretary of the neighborhood asso- ciation and a leader of local ecological restoration proj- ects. “I feel like we’re kind of at a tipping point.”
Donated to the city by lumber magnates Edward and Charlotte Kingsley in 1924, the park is sandwiched between Highway 30 and a railroad track often loaded with tanker cars — not quite the bucolic vista offered by nearby Forest Park. The grassy acre of land reflects Linnton’s character as “a transportation hub,” as LNA Vice Chair Edward Jones calls it.
There’s no plan for a covered structure at Kingsley, Niemi said, but enthusiastic locals don’t care.
“To me, the community garden is one little thing that Linnton should have, because Linnton lost a lot, a lot, in losing half the com- munity,” said Shawn Loo- ney, who was elected LNA chair last month. In the early 1960s, road widening, the city demolished all the buildings on the west side of U.S. 30—“virtually half of [Linnton’s] downtown,” says a city document.
The Kingsley Park location feels disconnected from Northwest Front Avenue, the Linnton Community Center and Ma Olsen Garden, though it’s an easy walk from these local attractions.
“We had been holding [Kingsley Park] hoping that we might be able to use it in some sort of land swap or deal to provide a better site for Linnton,” Niemi said. “The community just said, ‘Listen, you’re not doing anything with it, let’s do something.’ ”
Parks & Recreation sent postcards to 318 Linnton residences to assess interest. Of 99 responses, Niemi said, 81 were in favor, 11 neutral, seven against. Niemi has successfully found funding for 11 other community gardens, she said.
As an “underserved” community, Linnton might be given priority for grants like Metro’s Nature in Neighborhoods, Niemi said.
Folks in Linnton have a slightly different way of say- ing that.
“There are a lot of folks [in Linnton] who feel like the city owes us,” Looney said.
While some of Portland’s 50 community gardens are urban, none is surrounded by petroleum tank farms, sits on top of the Olympic Pipeline and abuts a state highway, as Kingsley Park does.
Niemi said the park’s soil was tested extensively a year ago by the city’s brownfield assessment program for heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides and petrochemicals.
“They actually found that there was no contamination concern,” Niemi said. “It’s surprising, but we’ve done a lot of good research and found out that it should be safe.”
The garden will take up about a fifth of the park on the north side. Community access will be on the south.
“I just don’t see any down- side,” Looney said. “So many people live alongside the hill, and they just don’t have any sun.”
Looney walks her dog at the park — the other use most requested by survey respondents — but rarely sees anyone except for a neighbor who scrawls a morbid tally of moles he and his dog have killed along the highway wall.
“I think it would be huge for the community,” Munro said. “I know when I went to high school here, I would see that there were community meetings in the community center and I thought, ‘This isn’t a community, this is just a couple of stores on the side of the highway.’ I didn’t realize until this year that [U.S. 30 widening] kind of destroyed the community.”
“I really need that, the sense of knowing who I’m living around, and having relationships with them,” she continued. “I think there’s a lot of interest in the garden, so that would be really nice if we could work together outside and have picnics and do stuff there.” ■