Sweet Home negotiating legal representation over Green Peter drawdown

By Ethan Hoagland
Of The New Era/Lebanon Local

Sweet Home’s city council approved a motion authorizing the city manager to negotiate and execute an agreement with law firm Markowitz Herbold PC to pursue legal action over the implementation of the Green Peter drawdown.

According to a draft Agreement of Personal Services, the law firm would represent Sweet Home against the United States Army Corps of Engineers over “water quality challenges the City is facing from implementation of the September 1, 2021 Opinion and Order issued in Northwest Environmental Defense Center et al. v. United States Corps of Engineers et al.”

The city could get a discount from the law firm. Under the draft agreement, the city would pay the firm “90% of its regular hourly rates for professional services.”

Since early November, the drawdown has flushed significant amounts of sediment into Sweet Home’s water source, Foster Lake. Turbidity sometimes spiked beyond ten times what the city usually deals with this time of year. As a result, city staff said they had to work around the clock and create a whole “new playbook” just to keep up. Litigation could help the city make up some of those extra costs.

City officials also cite environmental “devastation” as a reason for legal action. On top of the death of thousands of Kokanee salmon, who died from a change in water pressure, city officials have said the drawdown threatens Cope’s giant salamander and Pacific lamprey populations.

Another cause for legal action cited by the city: impact to the local economy. City officials have reported a 10% decrease in revenue for some area businesses since the drawdown. In November, The New Era spoke with the owner of boat repair shop Cascade Classic Outboards, Mark Woody, who told us calls and walk-ins for his business were down about 25% from the previous year.

Last month, the Linn County Board of Commissioners made their own commitment to pursuing litigation. The day before that, on Nov. 20, the Army Corps of Engineers hosted an information meeting at Sweet Home city hall that was met with anger and frustration by Sweet Home residents. City officials followed up that meeting with a Q&A session on Dec. 5 that involved only Sweet Home city councilors and staff. Litigation was a prime topic of discussion that night.

Sweet Home’s city manager still needs to sign the agreement before legal action could be taken.