Sweet Home’s city council continues drawdown litigation pursuit

By Ethan Hoagland
Of The New Era

Sweet Home’s city council approved a formal commitment to pursue litigation over the impacts of the Green Peter Reservoir drawdown on Nov. 28. Linn County Commissioners made a similar formal commitment the week prior.

City Manager Kelcey Young said while this formalizes the city’s commitment to exploring the litigation, city officials have been talking with law firms and “spear-heading the coalition” of impacted municipalities since the end of October.

“The city of Sweet Home has been researching legal action since end of October and beginning of November,” she said during the meeting. “Once we have a clear path, we will be bringing that back to council.”

Mayor Susan Coleman also announced what she called a “Q&A” session on Tuesday, Dec. 5 at the Jim Riggs Senior Center. Only Sweet Home city officials will be involved in this meeting. In a Facebook post about the event, city officials said “there will be no other entities available for questions and answers at this session.”

According to Mayor Coleman, community members will have the opportunity to voice their questions and concerns to the city in two-minute allotments during that meeting.

“We will do our best to answer all the questions there,” Mayor Coleman said.

The Corps published answers to questions on their website on Nov. 30, covering topics like the expected lifting of the current injunction in Dec. 2024, or an increase in viral loads and decreased feeding among fish at the South Santiam Hatchery. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife alerted the Corps to what’s happening at the hatchery, but the groups are uncertain if increased turbidity is the cause.

Later in the meeting, during her report to the council, Mayor Coleman expressed gratitude to everyone who attended the Army Corps of Engineers information session held Nov. 20.

“I believe it is valuable to show the agencies that caused this issue how much we care and are invested in our community,” Mayor Coleman said. “And I appreciate all who came out to find out more information about what is happening.”

“Since this is a federally directed issue, we have been in contact with federal representatives that oversee this area,” she added. “We have reached out to all of our state and county representatives. We have spoken with lawyers, consultants, private entities and we have reached out to tribal members, students and biologists.

Mayor Coleman called Sweet Home a “community of survivors,” but implored community members to “remain respectful” so their voices will be heard by other agencies.

The city continues to update their own drawdown impact FAQ sheet, which they’re routinely posting to Facebook and the city website. In the updated sheet, the city addresses concerns about pets sickened by the water, saying that the Sweet Home Veterinary Hospital told city officials they’ve “seen no cases of pet illness or death related to water quality in Sweet Home.”

Levels of chlorine and turbidity returned to pre-drawdown levels in the last week, according to city officials. Data from the United States Geological Survey shows raw water turbidity in the South Santiam River near Foster Dam steadily declining after a rapid surge at the beginning of November.

City Manager Young to take time off for health

During the Nov. 28 city council meeting, City Manager Young announced she will be taking time off for the rest of the year due to health reasons, starting Friday, Dec. 8. A series of city staff will serve as city managers in the interim.

City council members approved Blair Larsen to serve as interim city manager from Dec. 8 to Dec. 15. Sweet Home Police Chief Jason Ogden will take up the interim position from Dec. 16 through Christmas. From there, Sweet Home Library Director Megan Dazey will fill in from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. Young expects to be back in the office after that.

City renewing franchise agreement with Comcast

Sweet Home’s city council is moving toward renewing their franchise agreement with Comcast, after they approved the first two ordinance readings during the Nov. 28 meeting.

According to the Request for Council Action, filed by City Attorney Robert Snyder, the renewal was prompted by the need to bring the agreement in line with current regulations.

The renewed agreement maintains the 5% gross revenue agreement between the city and Comcast. Since the city first entered the franchise agreement back in 2012, Sweet Home has collected about $1.2 million in revenue from Comcast.

Changes made to the agreement largely focused on technicalities, like adding a sentence to ensure Sweet Home gets the same programming Comcast offers other communities.

Health Committee to return as full fledged committee

During the Nov. 28 meeting, Mayor Coleman announced the Ad Hoc Community Health Committee will return as a formalized full city committee at the start of the new year.

City officials are working to update the committee application form on the city’s website to now include the health committee.

Mayor Coleman paused the ad hoc committee in October, citing the committee’s success as the primary reason. Under the ad hoc committee’s efforts, Sweet Home saw the expansion of medical services like a health fair, a new memory care center and a new family medicine and urgent care clinic.