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Metro Has The Land, But Needs Money To Make It Parks

Metro-area voters will decide next week whether to spend millions of dollars to clean up and maintain natural areas bought over the last two decades.  Rob Manning reports on the measure proposed by the Metro regional government.

Voters approved Metro bond measures in 1995 and 2006. Those raised $360 million, and resulted in 13,000 acres of natural areas coming into public ownership.

Some were big one-time purchases. Others came together bit-by-bit, like Newell Creek Canyon near Oregon City. 

“We’ve acquired 25 separate parcels,” says Jim Desmond with Metro.

“We’ve now assembled a contiguous unit of about 215 acres, which includes that confluence of Newell and Abernathy Creeks.”

Thousands of people drive past these creeks every day – on Highway 213. But the forest along the creeks can be hard to get to.

There are no signs. You have to know the way in - past power lines and thickets of scotch broom and blackberry bushes.

Metro land manager, Dan Moeller says the gate in is narrow – on purpose.

“To manage what’s able to get in and out of here, we had to create some fencing, and we actually had to design this little post system to stop shopping carts from coming into this site.”

Moeller says the gate keeps shopping carts out — but it also blocks kids’ strollers and visitors in wheelchairs.

Officials say homeless camps crop up often.

Metro councilor Carlotta Collette says day hikers have found it, too.

“To some, it’s a secret place – and so there are a lot of people who think ‘yeah, let’s keep it the way it is, it’s my special place, I know where it is, I know the path, I know how to get in.’ But I think we would like to have more people be able to know it’s their special place, too.”

Metro says that takes money. Metro’s levy on next week’s ballot includes millions to improve public access. But Collette says it also provides money to improve water quality and wildlife habitat.

“Make the parks accessible – so kids can come in, and experience that, but keep them natural enough, so that they’re experiencing nature, and not just an urban park.”

There’s no organized opposition to the levy, but many area mayors lobbied Metro last fall, against putting it on the ballot.

Metro’s five-year levy would raise nine cents per thousand dollars of assessed value – or about $20 for a $200,000 home.

Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey says under Oregon’s property tax limits, the Metro levy would reduce revenue for other levies. Metro says the effect is about $3 million out of $90 million in collections.

Mayor Willey is dubious.

“We really won’t know until the tax is collected, and we’ve got better numbers. There are certain jurisdictions that have a much more difficult problem than others.”

But Willey says the mayors agreed to stay neutral on this levy.

Should the levy pass, Metro expects to compose trail maps and other plans for natural areas – like Newell Creek Canyon.

Councilor Collette says the work won’t be done in five years.

“But if we can put an intense, five-year effort in, we can get them to a point where maintenance would probably be much less expensive.”

Collette says if the levy passes, Metro would investigate other ways to cover the ongoing costs of managing the land.