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Albany City Hall 3

Albany City Hall

Concerned neighbors voiced fears about camping visitors during the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse, while Albany City Councilors went ahead with plans to put photovoltaic panels atop the city's three fire stations.

The council also chose to hold off on letting the city form an intergovernmental agreement with Linn County to share the cost of upgrades to the Linn County Fair and Expo Center.

The eclipse issue centered on North Albany resident Charlene Morrison's plans to rent her three-acre hay field to out-of-town campers. A consortium of six of her neighbors turned up to oppose the plan, citing crowd, noise, sanitary and fire hazard concerns. But Mayor Sharon Konopa informed the group that Morrison had that day announced she was scrapping her plans, in part because she learned all the portable toilets in the valley had already been booked.

Still, councilors cited an ordinance allowing for such gatherings for "special events." But City Manager Wes Hare said it was a tricky ordinance because "it didn't anticipate things like solar eclipses."

"We had a meeting today and we were nervous and were very happy to hear that she was not following through with her plans," he said.

North Albany resident Jerry Robinson touched upon a larger concern, anticipating an influx of visitors when he asked, "Why would they want to be here for three days when the event is in broad daylight at 10:17 a.m. on Monday August 21? Am I missing something here?"

Konopa agreed that there were a lot of unknowns and a lot of uncertainty.

"I think maybe it's best to not make more uncertainty by offering to let people camp in city limits," she said.

The other solar issue, that of adding photovoltaic panels to the fire stations, passed with four votes, with councilors Ray Kopczynski and Mike Sykes voting against it. Kopczynski was concerned the company offering the panels might fold, while Sykes seemed to feel the business was trying to take advantage of the city.

The company, PGPV LLC, formed by retired Albany firefighter Peter Greenberg, offered last month to install the panels at each station. The panels are valued at $300,000. Under the agreement, Energywise would then sell the generated electricity to the stations at 10 percent below current rates. Then, after nine years, the company would sell the panels to the city for $1 each.

The proposal suggests the city would save $1,109 annually for the first nine years and then see a savings of nearly $12,000 each year after that.

Energywise agreed to install the panels in order to take advantage of cost offset incentives from Energy Trust of Oregon. Such incentives are expected to drop in coming years, which is why Energywise has offered the deal.

But when it came to the intergovernmental agreement with the county, the council decided it needed more specifics. 

The IGA would involve the city and county putting up $100,000 each for improvements at the Expo Center. These include, according to center director Randy Porter, building new horse stalls, enclosing the loading dock, painting the exterior and installing a mechanical cooling system in the Santiam Building. While Kopczynski last month said he would have to see all the details, but that "it sounds like it could be a win/win," he was more circumspect this time around.

"A lot of the proposed improvements are really maintenance and not capital improvements," he said. Konopa added that the only improvement she sees that would qualify as such would be the plan to add dividers to the main hall.

"It should be re-worded to include a list of items the city can choose from," added Councilor Rich Kellum.

But Hare cautioned the council that trying to qualify each expense in an agreement that simply grants $100,000 would detract from the plan's spirit.

"There's gotta be some level of trust," he said. "And if I can offer my two sense on something in which I will have no stake at all, in my judgement, you've already made a decision to give them $100,000, and now you're trying to haggle over specifics."

"They don't get money until they give us a list," said Kellum.

The council directed staff to ask the county for a list of real capital improvement items before committing to the IGA.

Contact reporter Neil Zawicki at 541-812-6099 or neil.zawicki@lee.net

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