"Stop work" orders on two Millersburg subdivisions under construction have highlighted confusion over federal wetland maps, which many Oregon cities and counties rely on to issue building permits.
The Oregon Department of State Lands contends the federal wetland maps are incomplete as they didn’t assess agricultural areas.
Subdivisions in Millersburg are being built on former farm land.
“One gets a false negative when you look at the map. The map didn’t show anything, but the map didn’t try to do anything on those types of lands,” said Kirk Jarvie, southern region manager for DSL’s aquatic resources management program.
Jarvie added that developers appeared to have filled wetlands without permits in the Eagle Nest and Woods Estate subdivisions, which could bring nearly 100 homes to Millersburg.
State cease-and-desist orders were issued on April 7 and April 11, after streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure had been installed.
“We do completely understand that they went to the city of Millersburg and the county to get their approvals,” Jarvie said.
The scenario is uncommon, but occasionally happens, he said.
Oregon communities were supposed to develop local wetlands inventories, but that was more of a suggestion than a firm rule. Many never went through the process, likely because the studies are expensive and there’s limited grant funding available, he added.
Linn County and Millersburg don’t have local wetland inventories. The city of Albany has local wetland maps.
Millersburg City Manager Steve Hasson said that the maps mix-up is probably a statewide issue.
Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist and state Rep. Andy Olson met with DSL on Wednesday morning to discuss solutions.
“The county is going to vigorously pursue a quick resolution of this matter, because we all have an interest in protecting the integrity of a building permit,” Nyquist said.
Olson and Nyquist said the "stop work" orders were unprecedented locally.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, and I say that without casting stones,” Nyquist said.
He added that the county would likely err on the side of caution and send building permits that include infill to DSL for review.
DSL has encouraged Millersburg to follow that steps in the near future.
The city also is investigating whether it should create a local wetlands inventory, Hasson said.
Statewide, DSL is undertaking a mapping upgrade that should be completed in early 2018. The agency is creating an interactive tool that would include federal wetlands maps, local wetlands inventories, and wetland soil maps by the National Resources Conservation Service.
“We believe it would be a big improvement. In the case of the Millersburg situation, if we had that (NRCS) mapping tool, it would have caught those two sites for further investigation,” Jarvie said.
DSL also is developing an agreement with the Eagle Nest and Woods Estate developers, which likely will feature wetland delineation work, essentially a map of wetlands on the property before construction started.
The agreement also would require wetland mitigation and an assessment on whether the developers could face fines.
Jarvie said construction could resume on the Millersburg subdivisions in three or four weeks.
Olson said he was glad that DSL was trying to work with developers. “They’re wanting to do what they can to make this work for the city of Millersburg and those two subdivisions,” Olson said.