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Riparian rules add to the cost of projects

A new city law to protect riparian areas created $13,065 in additional design costs for a city of Ashland sewer line project that is the first major infrastructure project to have to meet the added regulations.

Years in the making, the city's Water Protection Zones Ordinance was narrowly adopted in late 2009 by the Ashland City Council, with Mayor John Stromberg casting a tie-breaking vote to approve the law.

Critics at the time said that the 30-plus page ordinance was too complicated, while supporters said it was long overdue and the buffers it created would protect streams, wetlands, trees and wildlife.

City staff members and the city's consultant on the sewer line project near Ashland Creek and Hersey Street ran into a number of complications in dealing with the new ordinance.

Consultant Hardey Engineering Inc. did additional mapping and other tasks, adding $4,000 to the project's costs, according to a city staff memo to councilors.

A second consulting firm was brought in to prepare a water resource protection permit application and to design a tree protection program at a cost of $6,500, the memo said.

A third consulting firm designed an Ashland Creek sewer line crossing for $2,565, bringing the total of additional design costs to comply with the ordinance to $13,065, the memo said.

The original contract with Hardey Engineering for design work was for $33,750, according to the memo.

The city of Ashland did expand the original scope of the project by adding sewer line improvements in Ashland Creek Park, creating more ordinance compliance issues, City of Ashland Engineering Services Manager Jim Olson said.

The city staff memo to councilors stated, "The water resource protection permit is newly enacted and this project represents the first attempt to apply it to a major construction effort. The process is new to both the Community Development staff and to the consulting community and since there are no prior project applications to fall back on, we are all learning the process as we move forward."

The memo went on, "The learning process is also an expensive one as we slowly address each element of the ordinance as it applies to the work."

Olson said public works department and planning department staff members learned a great deal about applying the new ordinance to infrastructure projects.

"In the future, I think it will be easier," he said.

The ordinance applies not only to city infrastructure projects, but to landowners making changes to their property, developers and businesses.

Ashland City Councilor David Chapman praised Olson for holding down costs on the sewer line project as much as possible given the added complications.

But Chapman said the costs are huge and the ordinance designed by city planners is too complicated for even seasoned city public works staff to understand. The two groups of city employees work in the same building on Winburn Way.

"The irony of this just kills me," Chapman said. "We have a building where people on this (planning) side work for eight years on an ordinance, and then people on this (public works) side have to hire a consultant to interpret it."

Chapman voted against adopting the stream and wetland area protection ordinance in 2009.

He voted with a City Council majority on Tuesday to approve funding for the sewer project cost overruns.

Goals of the ordinance include protecting streams and wetlands, reducing flood damage and potential loss of life, protecting fish and wildlife, controlling erosion and protecting water needed by humans, according to the Ashland Municipal Code.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.