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Skipanon Water Control District a step closer to disbanding

Eighth Street Dam, looking north (Cindy Yingst)
By Cindy Yingst, Thursday, July 30, 2020

A board that worked diligently for decades providing flood control along the Skipanon River has all but disbanded. And now the Clatsop County Commission must decide how to dissolve the agency and its assets.

“It has come to more urgency recently as the Skipanon board no longer has a quorum,” County Manager Don Bohn said Wednesday.

Skipanon Water Control District was unable to find anyone to run for a seat on the board during their last election two years ago. That left the board one member short.

Eighteen months ago, another board member resigned. Then another resigned six months ago. On June 23, the three remaining Skipanon district board members voted unanimously to dissolve and filed a six-step dissolution plan with the county.

The next step would have been for the board to call for a vote of property owners within the district, but longtime Chair Tessa Scheller resigned June 29.

With only Bruce Francis and Robert Stricklin left, there aren’t enough board members to call for a vote.

County commissioners are tasked with deciding whether the dissolution is in the best interest of the county and its residents and whether it would be possible to find people willing to serve on the board.

The district has two major assets: a flood-control structure at Cullaby Lake and the Eighth Street Dam. The district also has $40,000 to $50,000 in the bank, which would go to the county for asset maintenance and dissolution costs.

The money also could fund placing the question on the November ballot.

“You definitely could make the case that they have failed to regularly elect board members,” said Joanna Lyons-Antley, a lawyer working on behalf of the county. “If you choose to forego an election, you’d immediately go to (the next) step.”

County Commissioner Liane Thompson said the predicament is unusual.

“It’s all new territory to me. I’m puzzling about precedent,” Thompson said. “I know there was a lot of consternation in Warrenton about that dam and I don’t know if there are any implications. I don’t want anybody to get tripped up on this.”

The county will schedule another meeting on the issue and invite Warrenton officials to join. Last September, members of the district’s governing board told county commissioners they were ready to disband, saying the current board had served multiple terms and no one else would step up to the plate.

The county would become owner of the Cullaby Lake flood-control structure, which was remodeled in 2007. The city of Warrenton would become owner of the Eighth Street Dam, an earthen structure beneath a dirt bridge that has been the subject of political and legal battles in the last decade.

Warrenton city commissioners discussed the potential ownership in a closed-door session in September 2019. While there was no public announcement, there has been no desire to add the structure to the city’s assets list.

The district has insisted the 1960s-era dam is obsolete. It has no overflow spillway, does nothing to prevent flooding, and the removal of its tide gates in 2002 improved fish passage.

Some city leaders and residents have worried removing the tide gates created a flood risk. But when the city asked the Army Corps of Engineers for direction, it learned new environmental rules would bar the city from returning the removed gates to the dam or replacing them with the same type. And installing approved gates that facilitate fish passage would be expensive.

In other business Wednesday, the Clatsop County Commission:

** Approved the purchase of an electronic ballot sorter for $58,000 from Runbeck Election Services. The purchase, which had been planned in the budget, is expected to speed the signature verification and reconciliation processes.

** Discussed a plan for reopening county offices to the public.

** Approved a $65,000 contract with Warrenton Fiber for the crushing of up to 8,000 cubic yards of rock from the county’s quarry at Fishhawk Falls. The rock will be stockpiled and used for county maintenance projects in the Jewell area.

** Approved the purchase of a new Caterpillar generator from Peterson Power Systems for the Sheriff’s Office on 19th Street in Warrenton. The price may not exceed $52,480 and was accounted for in the county’s 2020-21 fiscal year budget.

Eighth Street Dam, looking south. (Courtesy Skipanon Water Control District)

County Manager Don Bohn

Clatsop County Commissioner Lianne Thompson


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