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‘Time to see what we’re made of,’ Sweet Home holds water quality Q&A

By Ethan Hoagland
Of The New Era/Lebanon Local

Sweet Home city officials made themselves available to answer community members’ questions about the city’s water quality, after the Green Peter drawdown impacted water treatment. The city hosted the event at the Jim Riggs Senior Center, in anticipation of a large crowd. Instead, about 20 people showed up in person.

Representing the city was Mayor Susan Coleman, City Manager Kelcey Young and Public Works Director Greg Springman, along with city councilors Greg Mahler, Angelita Sanchez, Dave Trask and Joshua Thorstad. Police Chief Jason Ogden also joined the panel. Other city staff at the table included Communications Manager Adam Leisinger and Administrative Services Director Cecily Pretty.

After requesting participants to queue up ahead of the Q&A, only three people who signed up asked questions. Following a moment of silence that City Manager Kelcey Young had requested so that participants could “center thoughts,” Sweet Home resident Robert Egner opened the Q&A by asking if the city has an attorney. City Manager Young fielded the question by reiterating the city’s exploration of legal options, a process she couldn’t share details about.

The next speaker started off by thanking city officials for their transparency, then asked if there was any “indication there were any Kokanee” salmon still living in Green Peter Reservoir and if the fish will be restocked. A massive die-off of Kokanee salmon in October, caused by a change in water pressure from drawing down the reservoir, enraged many Sweet Home residents and area anglers. Mayor Coleman took this question, answering that the city is still working to find out the value of the loss, and whether the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to restock the Kokanee. Young also mentioned that Greg Taylor, the fish biologist for the Army Corps of Engineers, is researching the impact the drawdown had on fish. USACE did not attend the Q&A.

The final speaker that signed up ahead of time asked why USACE couldn’t just defy the court’s order to perform deep drawdowns. She also sought clarification on the Biological Opinion (BiOp) that plaintiff groups Native Fish Society, WildEarth Guardians and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center alleged USACE failed to implement. Young answered by explaining USACE will be holding future meetings where they’ll discuss “next steps” and “what their preferred course of action will be.”

From there, city officials opened the floor to anyone who attended the meeting in person to ask questions. Sweet Home resident Dawn Miller got up and asked what the city knew about the drawdown in February of 2023, when USACE held public meetings about long term plans for Foster and Green Peter lakes. City Manager Young answered that the city had asked USACE at the time whether Sweet Home’s water quality would be impacted. According to Young, the Corps told them in February “they did not believe” the deep drawdown would impact drinking water.

The evening ended with a plea from City Manager Young.

“No one so far has been able to move forward with anything– with legal action that has gained any results,” she said. “We are trying to find a path where we can get results. If anyone wants to help us, it is time for us to come together.” She noted that local businesses could find ways to organize a lawsuit independent of the city, and so could citizens.

“This is a bigger deal because this is actually taking on the federal government,” Young said. “Honestly, it’s kind of time to see what we’re made of.”