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Gold Hill Odd Fellows Lodge drops lawsuit

GOLD HILL — After a lengthy legal battle, members of the Gold Hill Odd Fellows Lodge have decided to drop a lawsuit seeking $350,000 for property damage allegedly caused by the Jackson County Housing Authority and the city of Gold Hill.

That means it's back to "the drawing board" in trying to repair the damaged old lodge, said lodge spokesman and Noble Grand Greg Walch of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Gold Hill Lodge No. 129.

Walch said the decision came down to a choice between "spending even more for legal fees and end up with nothing" or "cutting our losses."

In the suit that was filed in the spring of 2011, lodge members sought compensation for alleged "negligence, trespass and nuisance" on the part of the two defendants. The case was settled by mediators last week, with the lodge receiving a small, undisclosed portion of what it had sought.

For the city's part, the case alleged broken water mains and the paving of an alley contributed to increased water runoff that damaged the floor and foundation of the old hall, rendering it unusable and causing mold problems.

During the same time span, the suit alleges, the Jackson County Housing Authority improperly installed a sprinkler system and paved a parking lot next door at the Rose Garden apartments, causing additional damage from water runoff.

Walch said the lodge had assistance with legal fees and some repairs over the years from its parent lodge near Portland and had hoped to repay the funds and make further improvements to its building.

But the suit was costing more than attorneys for the organization felt could be recovered, Walch said.

"We just went to mediation and got a settlement, which of course isn't enough to pay back the grand lodge for all their help with improvements over the years, but basically it was settle now or keep fighting and run the chance of ending up with nothing," he said.

While City Manager Rick Hohnbaum declined to discuss the case, Jackson County Housing Authority director of maintenance Christian Edelblute said the length of the case was excruciating for all involved and that the Housing Authority was not responsible for damage to the lodge.

"We're all relieved to be done with the case," he said. "The constant litigation got to the point we just wanted to settle out and be done with it, and we're satisfied with the overall outcome.

"We knew they had experienced some problem with Gold Hill city, and a water line breaking, but as far as pointing the finger at us saying it was our parking lot, and even going so far as to say it was our sprinklers, it just wasn't so."

One factor all parties involved could agree on, Edelblute said, was the need for the historic lodge to be rehabilitated.

"As part of discovery, we went in and did a tour and I really do feel for them," he said.

"They want to make some changes to their building, and it's going to cost a lot of money to address some of the issues. Their building is nestled right into the hillside, and it's difficult to keep water from coming in."

Walch, who at one point jokingly put the lodge up for sale to get the community's attention and publicize its need for funding, said the lodge planned to seek grant funding and community partnerships.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.