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Wave of concern floods Council Creek open house

Trail advocates outnumbered by fearful property owners


More than 70 people packed the Cornelius City Council Chambers last Wednesday, Aug. 27, to weigh in on the proposed Council Creek Regional Trail, which is under study as planners try to identify a route that would be both economically feasible and amenable to nearby property owners.

That task appeared more daunting after a crowd composed primarily of property owners expressed anger, fear and suspicion about the proposed 15-mile trail and about the planners’ promises to heed their concerns.

“You’re just disrupting so many lives for just a few,” said Linda Heinrich of Hillsboro, who lives next to a rail line that is being considered for the trail, which would run from Hillsboro through Cornelius and Forest Grove, then north to Banks. “Why are you interrupting our lifestyle that we moved out there for?”

Cornelius resident Patrick Elven, a trail supporter, was surprised to hear so many negative comments at the meeting. “A lot of us are excited about this,” said Elven, whose home would not be affected by the proposed trail — but even if it were, he said, “I’d still love it.”

Elven was in the minority but not alone, as a written comment indicated: “I’m from Forest Grove most of people want/need a project like this, please go on!”

Forest Grove engineer Derek Robbins, who manages the trail’s master-planning process, said he welcomed all comments and encouraged people to register their opinions — and property locations — in writing before leaving the meeting.

“Derrick’s door is wide open and he will talk to you,” said John Van Grunsven of Hillsboro, one of several attendees who opposed the trail but spoke well of Robbins.

Several open house participants noted the on-road Tualatin Valley Scenic Bikeway Trail was created just last year. “Why are you wasting the money putting this in when we already have trails?” Heinrich asked.

Unlike the bikeway, the proposed Council Creek trail would take walkers, joggers and cyclists off the roads, where drivers sometimes complain about them slowing traffic.

That’s one of the issues that helped win Lyle Spiesschaert’s support for the master-planning study that prompted the open house.

“Urbanization is happening no matter what,” said Spiesschaert, who has watched Forest Grove’s expanding northern boundary bump up against his 100-year-old family farm.

Spiesschaert has had to tangle with cyclists on Northwest Purdin Road while driving his oversized farm vehicles. Other people like to walk their dogs on his property. He’s posted “No Trespassing” signs but they get torn down.

“I fundamentally think we’re over-urbanizing the area,” he said after the open house. But right or wrong, “we’re doing it.” Given that reality, Spiesschaert wants to consider anything that might lessen the urban-rural conflicts, which is why he sits on a Stakeholders Advisory Committee (SAC) for the proposed trail.

At the open house, Sandy Scott argued there weren’t enough property owners represented on the SAC and suggested the planning process start over with a more representative board.

“It’s hard to represent farmers ‘cause we’re all so independent,” said Spiesschaert, who won’t decide whether to support or oppose the trail until the study is finished.

“A lot of people think if there’s no trail, there’s no problem. I’m not sure that’s true,” he said, noting that trespassing, homeless camps and other signs of crime are already happening on rural land, even with no trails in sight.

Spiesschaert thinks it’s possible that opening and improving a trail corridor so it gets more legal, respectable traffic would drive away the criminal elements that prefer more hidden, less patrolled places for their activities.

That’s what Michael Janin sees in the Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District. Janin, THPRD’s superintendent of security operations, attended the open house and said the large number of people using THPRD’s 60 miles of trail seem to scare off most criminals.

Crime near a Council Creek trail was definitely a concern for Mike Hyneman, who mentioned gang activity, assaults, metal thieves and other problems he’s had to deal with at the 500-acre Oregon Roses nursery, which his wife co-owns with her parents.

“When the homeless encampments start setting up, who’s going to be responsible for cleaning up the human feces?” he asked.

His wife, Katie Teufel-Hyneman, brought copies of articles reporting on crimes along various trails, including a 1998 Seattle Times column on the Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle, in which writer Richard Welsh cited a Seattle Police sergeant’s statement that “There are higher rates of theft and vandalism along the Burke-Gilman Trail.”

Washington County Sheriff’s Sgt. Mike Alexander told the crowd he had not seen an increase in crime along the popular Banks-Vernonia linear trail or the B Street trail in Forest Grove during his eight years supervising the county’s west end.

Janin said every time THPRD adds to its trail system, he hears from worried property owners who expect more homeless camps, parties and vagrants.

But “after we get the trails built, we go back out and check with people and (they say) ‘Yeah, it’s really not that big of a problem. We see our neighbors, commuters, families. What we expected to see, we don’t see.’”

Although no pre-trail/post-trail crime statistics were available, “I have seen graffiti go way down,” Janin said. “I have not seen crime go up.”

The Cornelius crowd, however, questioned whether the Council Creek trail would be as well patrolled as THPRD’s.

Many property owners worried about the trail being forced through their land. Robbins insisted that “We’re not going to build a trail through property if the seller is not willing.”

“Can you acquire any of our property by eminent domain?” asked Linda Heinrich of Hillsboro, referring to the ability of the government to condemn private property and force a sale if it is needed for a greater public good.

“No,” Robbins said.

Spiesschaert was skeptical of that after the meeting. “It’s hard for me to imagine if 95 percent said ‘yes,’ that they’d abort the project” over a few holdouts, he said.

About 20 years ago, Spiesschaert’s family was forced to sell property for the new high school and athletic fields. “And that was through the threat of eminent domain,” he said. “I understand all the fear.”

When asked if the trail was a done deal, Robbins said it would be possible for elected leaders of the county or of the four cities involved to vote against the trail.

But “it would be highly unlikely that it would never be built,” he said after the open house.

When it would be built is less certain, given the estimated cost of $200 per linear foot for a basic multi-use asphalt pathway.

Depending on what funding is available, it could be five years or 25, Robbins said.

“I have a solution for funding,” Anne Reiling of Cornelius told the open house crowd. She proposed that all property owners adjacent to the trail get to use it for free, while “everybody else pays 50 bucks — per trip.”

“Don’t give Washington County any ideas,” said Banks Planning Commissioner Ray Deeth.



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