Sweet Home would be ideal site for new police academy committee told

Sweet Home would make an excellent location for the new Department of Public Safety and Standards Training academy, members of a site selection committee were told Friday morning by local representatives.

Sweet Home is centrally located in the Willamette Valley, is a community committed to economic diversification, and has a volunteer spirit that will lend great synergy to the academy, the committee was told during a one-hour presentation/question and answer session.

The meeting was held at the current DPSST offices in Monmouth on the campus of Western Oregon University.

Local persons making the presentation were Jim Gourley, city councilman, Bob Burford, chief of police; Alex Paul, publisher The New Era; Jody Esperanza, property administrator for Willamette Industries and Kathy Serle, environmental engineer for Willamette Industries.

The proposed Sweet Home site is the former Willamette Industries sawmill on 24th Ave. The site includes two closed mills, one in 1989 and the other in the late 1990s. Fullmer Lumber currently leases a portion of the property and is a custom materials drying facility.

Willamette Industries is willing to sell the property for the cost of removing the buildings that remain on site.

Linn County Sheriff Dave Burright, who sits on the DPSST siting committee, asked Esperanza why Willamette Industries would be willing to make such an offer.

“Willamette Industries has a long history with Sweet Home,” Esperanza explained. “We have always been very pleased with our relationship with the town. We would love to see development of this site. The community has been very supportive of every effort we’ve made there. We have had to close two mills for economic reasons, not because we were unhappy with the town in any way.”

Esperanza said he believes the siting of the DPSST academy in Sweet Home would “be a great fit for the city.”

Kathy Searle, environmental engineer, said the site had a clean first phase inspection concerning possible environmental issues and she is about to ask for the second phase assessment. That could take six to eight weeks.

Both she and Esperanza said that the type of mill facilities that had occupied the site for nearly 60 years, traditionally pose little to no environmental issues compared to other possible industrial uses.

“This site doesn’t face the same environmental challenges as some industrial sites because even 40 or 50 years ago, we didn’t have hazardous materials in production,” Esperanza said.

Alex Paul told the committee that Sweet Home did not sit idly by after major economic shifts of the 1990s.

“We were told by then Gov. Barbara Roberts that timber dependent communities should play the cards dealt us. Well, we played those cards and although at times the community has felt like folding, it hasn’t. We keep ponying up to the table in the hopes of drawing a couple aces,” Paul said.

Paul said the community sports a “can do” spirit despite economic adversity.

He pointed to the successful development of the Weddle Bridge, the excellent interaction of teens with senior citizens at the new community center, the beautification projects including murals, and the Oregon Jamboree which has brought some of the best country music talent in the country into the community each fall for three days.

All of these accomplishments are possible because of the community’s volunteers, Paul said.

He also pointed out that the community has an excellent working relationship with Linn-Benton Community College, whose president, Jon Carnahan, has pledged full cooperative support should the academy move here.

“We have had dozens of meetings about economic diversification, employee training and analyzing of our town’s strengths and weaknesses,” Paul said. “What we need is opportunity. This training academy would be a great opportunity to prove to the rest of the state what a great place Sweet Home is. The synergy created by this facility would resonate throughout East Linn county.”

Councilman Gourley said Sweet Home has worked hard to diversify its economy over the last decade, in a cooperative effort of many groups including the Sweet Home Economic Development Group, Inc., the Chamber of Commerce and the City Council.

“We had developed an excellent new fire hall, are constructing a new law enforcement building, have completed a $2 million community center,” Gourley said.

“We have the lakes, snow skiing just miles away, hiking, fishing, hunting, biking, and much more,” Gourley said. “We’re a short drive away from Eugene, Albany, Corvallis and Salem. I believe the city council has tried to make positives out of any negative that has come our town’s way.”

During town hall meetings two years ago concerning the possible siting of a women’s prison in Sweet Home, the community said it would support alternative industry that would be clean and provide steady, long-term jobs in the community. The new academy would be an ideal program, Gourley said.

He added that State Sen. Mae Yih strongly supports siting the academy in Sweet Home and has worked diligently to provide the siting committee with her recommendation as such.

Chief Burford said Sweet Home would offer an excellent central location for the academy, offering much easier access to and from school for commuting students, especially those from central and eastern Oregon.

“I don’t think our quality of life can be beaten,” Chief Burford said. “We have lots of things to do such as the lakes and other recreational opportunities, but the nice thing is that we a short drive to so many communities. Students can enjoy events in Eugene, Albany, Corvallis, or Salem, all less than one hour’s drive away.”

The fact that the community has both a full service ambulance and fire department, and has a dispatch center along with holding facility at the new law enforcement complex just yards from the proposed site, is a plus, Chief Burford said.

Both the fire and ambulance and police department would work with students at every opportunity.

With potential for fiber optic capabilities at the new law enforcement center, the academy could easily hook into its own fiber optic system for training and other communication processes.

Tied into Linn-Benton Community College, the package is quite attractive, Chief Burford said.

Siting committee members were concerned that nearby residents might be uncomfortable with noise issues surrounding a shooting range and training exercises, but were told the city believes those issues could be mitigated with proper siting of training facilities and noise control through the creating of berms and timber areas.