County, city reach agreement on transfer of former Knife River quarry property

Audrey Caro

Linn County Commissioners on Nov. 28 approved the transfer of the 220-acre rock quarry formerly operated by Knife River (formerly Morse Bros.) to the city of Sweet Home.

Sweet Home City Manager Ray Towry expects the transfer to be complete by early January.

The property has been owned by Linn County since Dec. 30, 2010 as a result of foreclosure on more than 400 acres against Western States Land Reliance Trust, the previous owner, for nonpayment of property taxes.

The rock quarry property is located west of the north terminus of Clark Mill Road.

Commissioner Will Tucker said people have written letters about contamination at the mill site and wanted to make sure people understood that the property being transferred is only the quarry.

He also thanked county staff for the work they’ve done cleaning up the property and the boundaries of it.

The county nearly three years ago offered to give the 220-acre parcel to the Sweet Home Economic Development Group, which has worked on the process of transferring ownership.

SHEDG approached the council in October of 2016 with an offer to partner on the property, prior to Towry’s arrival Nov. 14, 2016.

The land is being transferred with a requirement that the property remain in public use for not less than 20 years, Towry said.

“We hope to work with local organizations, including (the Sweet Home Economic Development Group),” he said. “I really see it being an anchor for development north of the highway – a regional park with access to the river and pond and probably camping sites.”

The city also hopes the area would “host numerous special events throughout the year, including the Oregon Jamboree,” according to a draft the Prospective Purchasing Agreement between the city and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

Former Sweet Home Mayor Jim Gourley spoke at the public hearing in Albany on Nov. 28.

“I’m here to say that I appreciate all the county’s done on behalf of the city to help us get this transferred,” Gourley said.

He said he thinks the land will be a good addition to the city.

Some city councilors attended the hearing but did not speak.

Towry did not attend the hearing but spoke about the transfer at the Nov. 28 Sweet Home City Council meeting.

“(There is) good news today on two fronts regarding the Knife River property,” Towry said. “The public hearing was today and while I didn’t attend a few people in this room did. Nobody spoke out against it.”

The better news, he said, is that the city heard from the DEQ that day.

“That’s exciting,” Towry said. “It’s been a bit of a process.”

The city has since sent a draft of the PPA with some minor revisions to the DEQ.

“I’m hoping to have this document signed by the DEQ and the city this week or next,” said Bryn Thoms, R.G., Hydrogeologist, DEQ Western Region Cleanup Program.

“The city has already done the scope of work proposed in this document, which is to prepare a Contaminated Media Management Plan,” Thoms said. “The CMMP is a plan that gives site owners, and future site operators, guidance on managing any residual petroleum contamination that they might come across while doing construction, utility work, or excavation in the area of potential residual contamination, which is located near the former asphalt plant on tax lot 3805.”

Thoms added that the DEQ does not know of any other contamination on any of the other former Knife River/Morse Bros.’ property.