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Douglas County Planning Commission tables land use ordinance changes after state law conflicts arise

The Douglas County Planning Commission tabled proposed amendments to its land use development ordinance that were scheduled for a legislative hearing at the commission meeting Thursday.

The amendments were a response to a January Douglas County court decision, which nullified a conditional land use permit for the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline, LP. The permit authorized the proposed natural gas pipeline to be built on a 7-mile stretch of county forestland near Camas Valley.

It’s the second time the commission has tabled the amendments. In May, when the amendments were originally proposed, public testimony against the proposal showed the amendments conflicted with state land use regulations.

“In coordination with the attorney, county counsel, there was a recognition that part of the amendments did not match up with the Oregon Administrative Rule,” said county Planning Manager Jeff Lehrbach during a planning commission workshop immediately before the regular meeting Thursday.

No changes were made to the original proposal, and the amendments had to be tabled again, Lehrbach said.

The amendments would remove the requirement that a county planner approve land use permit extensions. Permit extensions would be granted automatically if the applicant submitted the application and fee before the permit expiration date and the applicant’s plan did not change.

The changes would prevent the conditions that prompted a court ruling against the county earlier this year after the county failed to issue a timely permit extension to the Pacific Connector Pipeline.

In her ruling, Douglas County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Johnson said the county violated its land use ordinance by issuing its seventh one-year extension to the Pacific Connector permit on Dec. 8, 2017. She said the permit became void when the county failed to grant its sixth permit extension by the deadline on Dec. 10, 2016. The permit was originally granted on Dec. 10, 2009, and the county began granting one-year extensions for the permit in 2011 after construction didn’t begin within two years as required.

Stacey McLaughlin, a landowner in the pipeline’s path, was one of four petitioners in the January lawsuit against the county. She testified in May that the proposed amendments violate state law and remove county oversight of land use developments.

“What the county is proposing is an attempt to legitimize its rubber-stamping of permit extensions and remove all accountability for a developer who fails to meet the statutory two-year development period,” McLaughlin said in a May email. “The proposed change is in direct violation of Oregon Administrative Rules.”

In her testimony to the planning commission, she referred to an Oregon rule stating an approval of a land use permit extension is an administrative decision, requiring the discretion of a county official, she said.

“She brought up a good point, and it took a while to get there, but our county counsel did confirm and get there,” Lehrbach told the planning commission during the workshop.

Lehrbach said while state law prevents the county from applying the amendments to permit extensions on farm and forestland, the county may revise the proposal so it can apply to other types of land use such as urban areas.

Pacific Connector reapplied in April for the land use permit nullified by the court. In late May, the county sent the company revisions, which county spokeswomen Tamara Howell said were relatively minor technical issues. Pacific Connector has 180 days to make the revisions and send the application back.

Jared Cordon is getting to know Roseburg, feels optimistic about leading school district

Jared Cordon officially started his new job as superintendent of Roseburg Public Schools on July 1, and he’s been getting to know the people in the district over the past few weeks.

“I feel really touched to work in a place that really cares deeply about kids and is committed to wanting the best for kids,” Cordon said.

He added that several years ago he heard about the Masai warrior tribe, who are known among their peers as the most fearsome and the most apt in strategy.

“I found it interesting because this Masai warrior tribe, their greeting to one another was ‘How are the children?’ I love that. The response back is, ‘The children are well,’” Cordon said. “I definitely have heard remnants of that greeting among people. People are really interested in how are the children. That has been kind of a common theme.”

To find out how the children are doing, Cordon has been asking just about everybody he meets about their opinion on the school district.

He’s gone up to people in stores, met with community leaders, staff and administrators to get a feel for the district. He hopes to continue asking that question at upcoming community forums.

“Ideally, I want to see us foster a system where, when kids wake up in the morning and they remember its Monday, they think ‘Fantastic, I get to go to school today. I’m super excited about that, because that is my place and I’m excited I can go be successful,’ and I want staff to feel the same thing,” Cordon said. “It’s early to make any broad-reaching assumptions at this point, but I’m more optimistic than I was when I interviewed.”

Cordon was named the new superintendent in April and has been involved in work at Roseburg for the past six to eight weeks, according to board chair Joe Garcia.

“We’re very much looking forward to his level of expertise and what it means to the district moving forward,” Garcia said.

Cordon’s wife and three of their four children will make the move to Roseburg before the start of the school year. Cordon’s oldest daughter married in May and will not be making the move.

“My wife is great,” Cordon said. “Bringing me down was good, but she’s been a great asset to our community up (in Sherwood). She’s community-minded and she will make it a better home.”

His wife, Shannon Cordon, is a nurse, but while the family is transitioning to a new house and Cordon starts his new role she will stay home. Their youngest son will be a fifth grader, while the other two will be in high school — a freshmen and a senior.

The family’s home in Sherwood officially went on the market Thursday and they’ve been looking for a house in Roseburg to fit their needs.

His youngest son has been asking almost daily, “Did we find a house yet, or are we going to be homeless in Roseburg?,” according to Jared Cordon.

For Cordon, it’s important to find a home in the school district.

“The interest in coming here was to really be a part of this community. We will find a place here, eventually,” he said. “We tend to keep the stuff that we buy. We’ve lived in our house for 15 years. The last house we bought was the first house we bought. We tend to, once we buy, use it out, wear it out, make it new, or do without. So this idea of buying a house for us ... We feel like we’ve got this couple week window.”

Cordon comes to Roseburg from the Beaverton School District, where he worked as the administrator for elementary curriculum, instruction and assessment since 2016. Prior to his district office position in Beaverton, Cordon worked as an elementary school principal and high school vice principal.

Prior to becoming an administrator, he taught English as a second language in the Corvallis School District for three years and Spanish at Oregon State University and Chemeketa Community College. Cordon has a master’s in teaching and a bachelor’s in environmental science from Oregon State University.

Cordon has spent his first two weeks in a study phase, getting to know the district. He has also shared some of his early findings and plans with the Roseburg School Board.

“Mr. Cordon, he’s got a plan in place and he’s shared that plan with the board in terms of rolling out his communication and how he sees himself diving into the community and getting involved from the very beginning,” Garcia said. “The centerpiece to that is focusing on listening. Listening to the students, the staff, the community. What is Roseburg? What does it mean to people? What does it mean to the kids in the district? And really get a sense of community and how he can bring his expertise in and build upon that to strengthen our school district.”

Garcia, Cordon and the rest of the cabinet will be working on creating a vision for the district in the weeks prior to the start of the school year.

One thing Cordon wants to prioritize when the school year starts is getting into the classrooms.

“I have a goal to spend half of my time in buildings,” Cordon said. “I don’t know if there’s any other way you can understand what a system needs, what a system is doing well, how children are doing, or how a principal or teacher is doing if you’re not with people. We need to be with people in the work.”

Cordon said he found people who are close to the work are less cynical. Parents who are involved have a better understanding, and he hopes his involvement in schools will make him better understand the struggles and triumphs facing the district.

“There’s been these themes about culture and improving culture,” he said. “I think you’ve got to have your hand on an oar and you’ve got to be rowing with people. You can’t be in the front of the boat just calling the cadence out. Our belief here is: We want to be in the boat with people, and we’ll see what that looks like.”

So the solution is for district office administrators to get more involved.

“If you’re working in the finance department, in (Chief Operations Officer Cheryl Northam)’s position. I really need her to go into schools from her lens. It’s good to better understand kids, but also see if our investment is paying off,” Cordon said. “This is a multi-million dollar organization. Hope is a really important characteristic, it’s a terrible strategy. Being close to the work avoids the need to be lucky. Hope is just not a strategy we can employ, it’s a great characteristic. We want to be optimistic, but we can’t hope things we’re doing are working, we need to be proximate to those things.”

Yoncalla explosives storage proposal debated at Douglas County Planning Commission

The Douglas County Planning Commission on Thursday approved the location of a commercial explosives and storage operation near Yoncalla.

The decision followed testimony from several neighboring landowners who raised safety concerns, as well as testimony from the explosives company that the project wouldn’t be hazardous.

Dyno Nobel wants to store explosives that would be used by local customers in the rock quarrying business, as well as contractors who build logging roads. The explosives would be stored on a parcel west of Rice Valley Road, 2 miles west of Rice Hill and 4 miles southwest of Yoncalla and would be more than 2,500 feet from any residences, as mandated by federal law.

Dyno Nobel is a global company whose parent company is based in Australia. Its North American headquarters is in Salt Lake City.

Craig Nicolson, regional operations manager for the company, told the commissioners that safety is its top concern. In response to a question, he said the explosives to be stored there are different than those that caused the Roseburg Blast that leveled eight blocks of downtown Roseburg in 1959.

The explosives in the blast were dynamite, made primarily of nitroglycerin, and ammonium nitrate.

The stuff Dyno Nobel proposes to store on the site is ammonium nitrate only, and it’s in a semi-liquid form that isn’t easily exploded, Nicolson said. Detonation involves using a detonator that is set up only to work in combination with other company equipment. Even if it were stolen, he said, the thieves wouldn’t be able to do anything with it.

Several landowners remained worried, and some referenced a criminal element in the area, with concerns ranging from the production of methamphetamine to terrorism.

Opponent Noreen Arnold showed videos taken of the intersection 137 feet from her front door, which would be traversed by companies hauling the explosives in and out of the facility. It showed people running the stop sign, making U-turns and a truck taking up both lanes as it made a turn. She feared a collision with one of the company’s trucks was likely, and would lead to an explosion.

“What’s going to happen when one of those explosives trucks go running through there and somebody runs that stop sign? I’m going to be blown off the map,” Arnold said.

Nicolson said the explosion Arnold feared wouldn’t happen.

“If you tumble a truck over, it’s not going to blow up. It’s going to spill its product into the road and you’re going to pick it up,” he said.

Opponent Cheryl Oguri raised a litany of concerns, from traffic problems to fire danger. She said there are between 14 and 20 homes within three-quarters of a mile from the facility.

“If you want to ruin our area, how about you and your deep pockets buy me out? I’ll take a million dollars,” she said.

Commissioner Christine Goodwin expressed sympathy for the neighboring landowners and said she had read the record thoroughly and would base her decision on what she believed was safe for everyone.

Discussion by the commissioners centered primarily around the issue of safety, with particular emphasis on the idea of a better fence to deter would-be thieves.

Ultimately, the planning commission voted to make building a security fence a condition of their approval.