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  • 18 Apr 2014

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Portland and Gresham spar over emergency communications tower

Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis is complaining that Portland is ignoring his city's concern about a 140-foot emergency communications microwave tower on top of Gresham Butte.

Portland says the location is good for improving emergency dispatching in the region. Bemis says it is one of Gresham's most treasured open-space vistas.

According to Bemis, despite his overtures, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales directed his staff to resubmit a land-use application for the tower on Friday.

Bemis says the two mayors had lunch on Tuesday, in an attempt to reach a compromise.

"I left that lunch feeling, for the first time, like Mayor Hales might be starting to understand how important this issue, and that butte, are to our residents," Bemis said in a prepared statement. "Unfortunately, somehow we're still not there yet."

Bemis says he appealed to Hales to put the brakes on the application, so that the two jurisdictions could negotiate in a neutral environment.

"It's awfully hard on our end to pursue an alternative that has a hope or a chance when Portland is simultaneously gunning full speed ahead on an option our residents will never accept," Bemis said.

According to Bemis, Hales pledged to pursue alternatives over the next 30 days.

"I like Mayor Hales, which is part of what makes this issue so frustrating," Bemis said. "My strong hope is to like him even more 30 days from now, if Portland pivots to a viable solution that works for everybody."

According to Bemis, Portland's initial land-use application for the tower, which would be more than three times taller than a current tower and largely visible above the butte's scenic tree-line, was remanded as incomplete by Gresham planning officials late last summer. Bemis had hoped that, prior to Portland resubmitting its updated application, the two mayors might agree to pursue an alternative.

The tower proposal is opposed by the Gresham Butte Neighborhood Association and many of Gresham's elected officials. Gresham planning staff will now re-evaluate the application for completeness, which will be followed by a 14-day public comment period, and an eventual staff evaluation and decision.

As an adjacent landowner, the city of Gresham is an "interested party" to the land-use application, and will submit its own analysis of why other alternatives to Portland's proposal could both meet the technical and public safety goals of the project, and protect the view of Gresham Butte.

"We have opposed this blight from day one, and we will oppose it until this proposal is dead. Too many generations of Gresham residents worked too hard for too long to protect this icon for us to sit idly by and let Portland capriciously mar our scenic vista," Bemis said.