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Garden near plant should relocate, city officials find

GOLD HILL — Hours after community gardeners helped harvest some 900 pounds of tomatoes last week, City Council members voted to ask the gardeners to find a new place for the half-acre plot which is now next to the city's wastewater treatment plant.

City officials said they support the project, but security concerns at the wastewater treatment plant and the city's need to expand require the garden be relocated.

Garden manager Curt Shuler was surprised to learn of the decision. "That's news to me," he said. "I knew that eventually we would have to move, but the impression was that was a ways down the road. And I've not heard anything for months."

Shuler, who said volunteers were ready to begin preparing the garden for next spring, said he thought work on the treatment plant was not imminent.

"It was my understanding that what they wanted the property for would amount to a significant amount of money, which the city did not expect to have anytime soon," he said.

"And if they want to get concerned about security, they ought to close that facility and make it a gated entry. Otherwise the thing is wide open. If you want to get technical, we're the best security system they've got. We're always looking for people that look suspicious."

Councilwoman Christine Alford said she was concerned about liability if someone were injured on the city-owned property and security concerns pertaining to chemicals stored at the facility.

Councilwoman Donna Silva, who made the motion to advise garden committee members to find a new site, said garden committee members had been repeatedly warned that a new site was needed.

City Manager Elise Smurzynski said after the decision that council members would have to officially decide whether to allow planting in the spring.

Community volunteer Steve Kiesling called the garden "one of the most successful things the city's doing right now."

Kiesling urged the city to offer assistance in finding a new site for the garden, which Smurzynski said the city would be willing to do.

Smurzynski said city officials hoped to secure funding for a lagoon on the three-acre site that would collect and treat sludge, which is currently transported, at great expense, to an off-site location.

Smurzynski said funding for the lagoon would not be secured for at least one year, and planting in the spring could be permitted with council approval.

"We would just like to see the opportunity available for the wastewater facility to operate in a slightly different manner and also see the garden continue to be successful," said Smurzynski.

Founded in 2008, the Gold Hill community garden attracts up to 60 volunteers throughout the year, with about 20 regularly helping, according to Shuler.

In 2009, the garden produced more than 24,000 pounds of produce. After community needs have been met, the gardeners provide excess vegetables to Access, Inc.

For details on the garden, call Shuler at 541-855-2576.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.