Solutions Team’s role in community forest coming to end

Scott Swanson

The South Santiam Community Forest Corridor Oregon Solutions Team is ready to call it quits – in a manner of speaking – after holding its final planning meeting Monday evening, Dec. 16, at the Sweet Home Community Center.

What that actually means is that although the Solutions Team’s days are numbered – specifically by a target date of Feb. 4, the project will continue in another format, leaders of the team said last week.

According to plan, at that time the team will cease to exist and will be replaced by Declaration of Cooperation between the multiple participating state, local and federal agencies and the private entities represented on the team, which was formed last year to work on establishing a community forest extending from Sweet Home to Cascadia.

Steve Bryant, Oregon Solutions project manager, said things are on pace to proceed according to plan.

“We’re shooting to get it pretty well wrapped up by Feb. 4, when we have planned a Declaration of Cooperation Signing Ceremony,” he said.

The team was desginated in November of 2012 by Gov. John Kitzhaber to bring together interested and affected parties representing local, state and federal interests, to work to cut through red tape and other hindrances to the establishment of a forest of public and private lands between Sweet Home and Cascadia – and possibly beyond.

Goals to be addressed included improved access to the South Santiam River, improved forest health and recreation, and creation of local forest-related jobs. Also on the list of to-do’s was the transfer of Cascadia Cave, a site currently on land managed by Cascade Timber Consulting, to public ownership or management, probably by a federal agency.

The goal was to create a forest that would be more attractive to visitors for recreation purposes and that would boost forest products industry commerce in Sweet Home and east Linn County.

The team has met several times since last January and has crafted a vision statement and, now, an advanced draft declaration of cooperation intended to ensure that the project continues after the team no longer exists in its current form.

On Dec. 16, various participants reported on progress in establishing a county regional park on former Western States Land Reliance Trust property that was foreclosed by the county in 2010. Other topics were Cascadia Cave, and the possibility of a local cooperative assuming leadership of the community forest establishment process.

The participants at the meeting also made changes to the vision statement, which describes in detail what is intended by a “community forest, and what the long-term vision and goals are for that effort.

“We added emphasis to economic development as an objective of the (community forest corridor) project,” Bryant said, “recognizing that timber harvest continues to be an important activity in the corridor. We want to assure all parties that we value timber harvest and wood products as an important part of Sweet Home’s economy. Those things need to continue. Everyone is in agreement on that point.”

He said the next step is obtaining statements of support and commitment from “all of the parties,” making sure that each entity “takes steps within their area of interest and responsiblity to achieve that vision of the corridor” – providing “in-kind support.”

Also to be addressed, he said, are strategies for applying for funding to clean up the former WSLRT property and work with ODOT to continue improvements to Highway 20 east of Sweet Home.

Specific issues addressed at the meeting included:

Former WSLRT Property

Rick Partipilo of the Linn County Health Department reported on progress of cleanup work at the former Western States Land Reliance Trust property foreclosed by the county in 2010 and planned as a future park site.

He said the land, which would anchor the west end of the community forest project, includes a former quarry site that is envisioned as a future outdoor concert venue and parkland, and mill property that could be sold.

Partipilo said the approximately 140-acre mill site portion of the property, which County Commissioner Will Tucker said the county will likely eventually sell off, still has arsenic and diesel contamination, which will require further money and work. He said the county is seeking grant funding to assist in the clean-up effort, which will cost $350,000 for assessment.

Tucker said the county will continue to make sure that polluters and others help with the cleanup.

“The quarry site is cleaned up,” he said.

Proposed County Park

Tucker and county Parks Director Brian Carroll said the county is continuing to work with Oregon Jamboree staff members to develop a permanent outdoor music festival venue in the area of the quarry, which would be large enough to support “25,000 to 30,000” visitors and host other events as well.

The proposed park facility may also include a campground, sports fields, expanded parking, access to the river and the ponds that line the river, and more.

All-Lands Collaborative

U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Cindy Glick reported on the possibility that the All Lands Collaborative, which started as a joint effort between the USFS and Cascade Timber Consultants to work together to manage forestland in a way that benefits the public, may take on the coordination of the community forest project.

Glick expressed concerns that some residents appear to believe the collaborative exists primarily to benefit Sweet Home which, she said, is not the case, noting that its first project has been 10,000 acres of forestland 30 miles east of Sweet Home in the Cool Soda area.

“We are bigger than Sweet Home,” she said. “Lebanon, Brownsville, Crawfordsville – we’re all in this together.”

Bryant told participants in the meeting that the Oregon Solutions team will soon be disbanded and that the coordination and maintenance of the momentum achieved by the team will need to come under the umbrella of some other organization – possibly, the collaborative.

“This is going away,” he said. “This organization will no longer exist.”

“I think we have work to do,” Glick said.

She said that although the collaborative’s first project was the Cool Soda area, “we see this as a continuance of our purpose.

“Even though (the name) says Sweet Home, this is much larger in scope.”