A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Riverkeeper, Albany file proposed settlement

Written March 9th, 2022 by Hasso Hering

Periwinkle Creek near Periwinkle Park, shown Wednesday afternoon, will see work to improve fish habitat as a result of the settlement.

Willamette Riverkeeper and the city of Albany have filed a proposed settlement of the Riverkeeper’s lawsuit that claimed the city had violated the federal Clean Water Act in various ways.

The proposed consent decree was filed with the U.S. District Court in Eugene on Tuesday, March 8. The court has 45 days to act on the filing, and the settlement will be final when a judge approves it.

Riverkeeper is an environmental organization dedicated to keeping rivers in the Willamette Basin clean. In response to my request, its executive director, Travis Williams, on Wednesday sent me a copy of the proposed consent decree, which settles the lawsuit his group filed against the city in October 2020.

The highlights:

— Albany will pay $125,000 to the watershed councils of the Calapooia, South Santiam and North Santiam rivers. Each of those three groups will spend its share on projects related to stream health in their respective areas. The Calapooia group will spend about $42,000 on improving a 2000-foot reach of Periwinkle Creek in and near Periwinkle Park. It intends to plant fast-growing and drought-resistant trees to shade the water.

— Albany will pay Willamette Riverkeeper $125,000 to cover the fees of attorneys and experts the organization hired for the court action.

— Albany must draft a stormwater management plan by Oct. 1, 2023, and allow Riverkeeper 60 days to review it and make comments.

— Albany is to take additional steps to keep storm runoff at construction sites from reaching waterways.

— As for the city’s sewage system, Albany must start a water quality sampling program that can be used when there’s an overflow. When this happens, the city will notify the public on social media.

Except for the payments to the watershed councils for stream improvements, Albany Public Works is already doing, or planning to do, most of the things the consent decree requires.

Riverkeeper sued the city alleging that it had failed to comply with federal requirements for stormwater and wastewater discharge permits, but the city said it had complied with what the Department of Environmental Quality required at the time. It has since obtained a stormwater permit and had its wastewater permit renewed.

Riverkeeper’s attention zeroed in on Albany in August 2019, when a long-forgotten and abandoned sewer pipe spilled into the Willamette River just when Riverkeeper’s annual float trip passed the spot. Some of the boaters paddled through water tainted with untreated effluent.

As part of the settlement, Riverkeeper agrees to drop City Manager Peter Troedsson as a defendant in its suit.

In recent months the city has been briefed in executive sessions on the status of the legal action. Until the court filing Tuesday, the details of the settlement were not publicly known, and the city staff didn’t mention the settlement during the council’s meeting Wednesday night. (hh)

6 responses to “Riverkeeper, Albany file proposed settlement”

  1. Sharon Konopa says:

    Ooooooh, I hope this settlement is not a big, big mistake. This majorly sets a precedent and for every city that borders any river in Oregon. Yes, we should be good stewards of our waterways an environment and the city does the best they can within their financial means. If our infrastructure is to be flawless, then it comes with a price of every resident of Albany. We should not cave in to paying for the Willamette Riverkeepers attorney fees. More will come!

  2. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    A forgotten sewer pipe? We’re expected to believe that?

    It’s always refreshing to see a private, non-profit watchdog go after a careless local government.

    According to their IRS Form 990 they have 2,800 volunteers.


  3. Karen says:

    Sounds like Albany Public Works was not doing their job in 2019. How can you “forget” a sewer line? I hope they are doing a better job.
    It is sad when an outside group has to ‘force’ a city to keep the safety of its residents and wildlife secured.

    • Marilyn Smith says:

      From the Albany Democrat-Herald, Aug. 15, 2019:

      “An estimated 2,100 gallons of raw sewage was spilled into the Willamette River near Bowman Park on Thursday morning, city officials said.

      The overflow occurred at about 8 a.m. when city of Albany crews were performing routine sewer system maintenance and discovered a previously abandoned sewer line that was leaking, according to a news release from the city.

      Crews took immediate action to investigate and stopped the leak by permanently plugging the line, which stopped the spill at 2 p.m., according to the news release.”

  4. centrist says:

    I worked in an old facility for 40-odd years. Occasionally there was an awspit failure related to an underground failure. Folks on the job hadn’t forgotten about things. They weren’t on the job when “the thing” went into service. They usually didn’t know where to find a record of “the thing”.
    Oh, I agree with Sharon K that it is a bad idea to have the City pay the plaintiffs legal expenses.
    What surprised me was that GShadle was enthralled by the idea.

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      I’m all for clean water and holding local government officials accountable for their failures.

      It reminds me of an ex-city manager who was fined by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission for election violations.

      It’s not about being “flawless”. It’s about being responsible.

      A long-forgotten sewer pipe full of untreated effluent? Laughable.


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