Oregon Lakes

Sometimes I get tired of writing about city issues, as anyone who has been reading these columns for long already knows. Today I would rather write about lakes – specifically those located in our nearby mountains. My favorites are the ones that have cutthroat or brook trout and require a good hike to reach.

Occasionally I feel some guilt over telling others about these special lakes, but then I remember how many times I have had one all to myself for a weekend and the guilt passes. Oregon is blessed with literally thousands of small lakes that most Oregonians will never see. I remember taking my grandson to Opal Lake a few years ago on a Friday night and having the place all to ourselves. The trip required us to drive down a road paralleling Opal Creek that was jammed with campers, and I expected to find the lake similarly packed. Apparently the short but steep hike into the lake was enough to discourage people from trying it. As the pictures illustrate, it’s a beautiful place where you can catch breakfast, if you are so inclined.

image1The hike into Tumble Lake carries the rewards of good fishing and a beautiful waterfall. I think one of the great joys associated with these places is the awe they inspire when you catch a glimpse of them through the trees and then see them revealed as you approach the water’s edge.

image2My friend Mark Shepard gave me a tip about Red Butte Lake in the Jefferson Wilderness where we found some great fishing and a beautiful campsite. During the night, a herd of deer came into the camp and one snorted within a few inches of my face while I was in my tent. The hike and the fishing were worth the scare.

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There are too many lakes within a relatively short drive of Albany to describe or show them all. Each has its own special features that add the joy of discovery to the pleasures of just being able to reach them. I am taking two of my grandsons to lakes I’ve never visited before this weekend, and I’m sure we will have some great new stories to tell.

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DAMNED IF WE DO…

I received an application in my office yesterday that illustrates a problem I see with increasing frequency. The form is a request from someone who is renting space in a residential neighborhood to live in his RV. Our Land Development Code prohibits this practice because there are many legitimate concerns about the effects on a neighborhood if folks could start renting out their backyards as camp sites. The bigger problem isn’t really RV parking in residential zones, but the growing number of issues where the distance between good and bad or right and wrong is so narrow that a strong case can be made for either choice. Equally troubling is the realization that while objective differences may be small, individual opinions will often make them into matters of life and death.

City government has been getting trapped between conflicting points of view throughout my career, and I realize that a large part of my job involves trying to successfully resolve these differences. The role of the city manager is to administer the laws and rules adopted by the Council in a fair and impartial manner so that the community is viewed by its residents as a good place to live. I think it’s fair to say that the job of resolving differences of opinion has never been harder.

Earlier this week, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that a man who started screaming at and threatening to expose himself to a young mother and her daughter in a public park was guilty of no crime because she did not actually see him exposed. Apparently, she was able to turn away while calling the police. Freedom of expression is protected by both the U.S. and Oregon Constitutions, but what about the right to enjoy a public park without being harassed or threatened by those without judgment or conscience? Our police contend with these dilemmas nearly every day.

We know the American public is closely divided on a wide range of issues that include legalization of drugs, abortion, gun control, immigration, foreign aid, and military interventions to name a few. It’s not surprising we are also divided on local issues like zoning, development restrictions, taxes, and animal regulations. Most people are very concerned about anything that might lower the value of property they own, yet the same people might be equally anxious about government intrusion into the lives of private citizens.

So what do I do with a request to allow someone to rent a piece of a backyard as a place to live in an RV? My answer is really dictated by city ordinances that only give me authority to grant a 90-day permit to “…alleviate a temporary housing hardship.” I’m not sure the application in front of me meets that criteria, but I will investigate more and probably approve the 90-day permit if the RV and its occupants are not causing any problems in the neighborhood. It’s not a permanent solution, and it may offend someone, which seems to be a good description of many of the decisions local government is compelled to make every day.

STORM WATER ISSUES

The City Council heard a two-hour presentation at Monday’s work session that described possible options for implementing a stormwater management fee within the next year to cover the costs of meeting federal mandates and maintaining the City’s stormwater system. Albany stayed below the 50,000-resident population threshold for federal storm water requirements for many years, but we are now past the limit and will soon be required to meet new standards.

Regardless of what the federal and/or state agencies may require us to do, Albany’s storm water system is not in good shape. Much of the system was created before modern development standards were in place and things like replacing old pipe and managing storm water are expensive. We all pay a price for the system’s inadequacies in the form of localized flooding and polluted water reaching streams and rivers. Most of us don’t think much about storm water until it causes problems that directly affect us, not unlike other problems that are sometimes referred to as the tragedy of the commons. Our individual contributions to storm water pollution, for example, may do very little damage to nearby rivers, but the collective discharge of many communities can create a tragedy that ultimately affects everyone.

Albany has not rushed into charging residents or businesses large fees to address the storm water problem. The City Council has heard reports on our impending permit requirements for years, and Public Works staff members have particularly focused on the issue over the past two years. We have compared ourselves to other like-sized communities and looked at a variety of rate-setting methodologies in an effort to develop equitable fees that generate sufficient revenue to address permit requirements and storm water system needs.

We have not ignored storm water in the past. Improvements are made to the system as a part of street projects and other types of new development. We have budgeted in excess of $1.3 million annually out of the sewer and street funds for storm water maintenance and improvements. We know, however, that more effort and expense will be required to meet minimum standards.

The Council heard on Monday that the impact of a new fee could range from as little as $2.61 per month for single-family residences to as much as $9.16, after lowering water and sewer rates. Rates for a very small number of businesses with large impervious surface areas would be dramatically higher. Much more information and discussion will be required before any rates are set, probably sometime in October or November of this year.

Increasing charges to residents for benefits that may not be obvious to many is never going to be an easy or popular decision. Earlier generations of leaders often chose to increase taxes as a way of funding new programs, but that option is not equitable or even possible today. Paying a relatively small fee to address problems that will negatively affect our children and grandchildren seems like a wise investment of our resources whether it’s popular or not.