It’s official: County to sign over quarry land

Audrey Caro

Sweet Home City Councilors voted on Dec. 19 to sign documents to finalize the transfer of the 220-acre rock quarry formerly operated by Knife River (formerly Morse Bros.) from Linn County to the city of Sweet Home.

Robert Briana and Dave Trask were absent.

The Prospective Purchasing Agreement between the city and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality should be complete by the end of December, said Bryn Thoms, R.G., Hydrogeologist, DEQ Western Region Cleanup Program.

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.

City Attorney Robert Snyder reviewed information with councilors regarding the property and the process so far at the Dec. 19 City Council meeting.

“We’ve gone out and done what the DEQ wanted,” Snyder said.

The city has a letter from the DEQ stating no further action is needed, “which is what everyone wants to have on a property like this,” he said.

There is a deed restriction that deals with water, he added. Because of arsenic and “other things” they will not be able to dig a well on the property.

The Contaminated Media Management Plan, which is required by the DEQ also has been completed.

The preliminary title report details road and utility easements on the quarry property, and the resolution and order is the document that the Linn County Board of Commissioners approved last month so the land transfer could be made.

There is a disclosure and release agreement between the county and the city that states the city will accept the land in “as is” condition “and with limited liability, if any, to the county.”

The deed for the property states that the city shall keep the land in public use for 20 years.

Snyder said the county has the real market value of the property at $2 million. The city has spent about $14,000 on the land transfer process, according to figures presented at the city council meeting.

The Phase I portion cost $4,500, the CMMP cost $1,000, the PPA cost $5,500 and the cost of title insurance was $3,354.

City Councilor Diane Gerson asked Snyder if the property qualifies for recreational immunity.

“Yes, it depends what we do out there,” Snyder said. “State law (regarding) recreational immunity, (says that) people use your property for recreation and you don’t charge them a fee so they can’t come back and sue.”

Gerson also was concerned about not over burdening city staff with another project. She said she wanted developing this newly acquired land to be a very low priority.

Council Lisa Gourley said it is a low priority but that to accept the land now would give the city and community members access to the river.

Gourley said she thinks the city can look to community partners, such as the Sweet Home Economic Development Group to help develop it.

She joked that maybe someone who would like to have it named after them would foot the bill.

Mayor Greg Mahler chimed in that perhaps Phil Knight would be interested.

Councilor James Goble asked if the public would have access to the property once it is transferred or if it would be locked up.

“I don’t know,” Snyder said.

Insurance coverage and state law will be a consideration in those decisions.

“(It will be a matter of what) state law will allow us to do without getting in trouble under the liability of recreation,” Snyder said. “It might be some of those things, like you get over at the skate park and you know if you put up a sign that says something you somehow become liable that they’re supposed to then do that, whereas if you don’t have a sign on something then you’re better off because then you haven’t taken on part of the responsibility.”