Cottage Grove considers appeal

Cottage Grove considers appeal
The city’s quantity of water from the Row River is the focus of an ongoing court case
By Serena Markstrom
The Register-Guard
January 14, 2014

COTTAGE GROVE — The City Council on Monday moved closer to a possible appeal of a December ruling by the Oregon Court of Appeals that could jeopardize the city’s water rights to the Row River.

The council authorized City Manager Richard Meyers to enter into an agreement to bring the League of Oregon Cities in as special legal counsel as the city moves forward with the case.

Meyers said after the meeting that the council motion most likely means the city will apply for an extension on the Wednesday deadline to challenge the appeal court’s decision.

The League of Oregon Cities had previously filed a brief on behalf of the city because the outcome of the case is deemed important beyond just Cottage Grove to cities across the state.

If the city moves forward and appeals to the Oregon Supreme Court, it will be fighting a ruling sought by the Portland advocacy group WaterWatch that limits the Cottage Grove municipal water system to drawing 2 million gallons of water per day from the Row River.

City officials believe Cottage Grove has water rights to twice that amount, or 4 million gallons per day. That’s because the city applied for the necessary permits from the state Department of Water Resources before 2005, when state law instituted new requirements for conservation and fish protection.

The state appeals court agreed with WaterWatch’s argument that Cottage Grove’s permit application was incomplete and therefore the city should have to obey the 2005 law.

The appeals court ruled that the city is required to create a plan to curb leakage and waste in its water piping system. The court further ruled that the city must develop a plan to protect threatened spring Chinook salmon on the Row River.

The League of Oregon Cities is concerned that other cities that applied for but did not fully secure water permits prior to 2005 could also find themselves subject to the conservation and fish protection requirements.

The council on Monday went into a nonpublic session to discuss the case before returning to open session and passing the motion to move forward with the help of the League of Oregon Cities.

At the start of the meeting, Mayor Thomas Munroe delivered a brief state of the city address that covered highlights from 2013.

When asked during an interview before the meeting what would be the city’s priorities heading into 2014, Munroe said the water rights case was the most important thing.

Munroe said police department staff hours were up in 2013 because of two homicides and embezzlement investigations, as well as work associated with the recent cold weather and snow.

Last month, former city employee Sheila Smith pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $50,000 from the city over a period or more than six years. She was sentenced to three years in prison.

Munroe highlighted improvements to the municipal court under new judge Martin Fisher.

Under Fisher’s leadership, the court has started using an electronic GPS tracking service to monitor defendants in alcohol-related cases and house arrests.

The defendants pay for their own tracking devices, Munroe said.

Another accomplishment cited by Munroe was new payroll and accounts receivable software in the finance department in the wake of the Smith embezzlement case that exposed weaknesses in the previous system.

The mayor also touted a new crosswalk on Highway 99, and safety improvements planned for the Row River Trail.