Ross Island transfer is a go
Eight years in process, Pamplin gives land to city
By Nick Budnick
The Portland Tribune, Nov 2, 2007
After years of on-again, off-again negotiations, the gift of a portion of Ross Island to the city of Portland became a reality Wednesday morning.
For about an hour, City Council chambers hosted a chorus of mutual thanks, congratulations, appreciations and praise, ending with Mayor Tom Potter signing a donation agreement that already had been signed by Robert B. Pamplin Jr., owner of Ross Island Sand & Gravel Co. Pamplin also owns the Portland Tribune.
Potter said the 45-acre gift of sensitive habitat, which later will be joined by 15 acres of reclaimed habitat, would remain a prized area a century from now, and will anchor a “world-class urban wildlife refuge.”
Pamplin thanked environmental leaders, elected officials and city staff for helping “create history.” He also presented the city with a check for $100,000 for future maintenance of the island.
Ross Island actually is two islands that were joined artificially 80 years ago, creating a stretch of 175 acres of land that nearly surrounds a 106-acre lagoon created by gravel mining. Mining was halted on the island in 2000.
The lagoon now serves as a rest stop for endangered salmon, while the island itself provides nesting areas for bald eagles and other birds.
“This is a critical spot on the Willamette River,” said Travis Williams of Willamette Riverkeeper during the meeting.
Starting in 1903, Ross Island periodically has been floated as an ideal site for a city park. In about 1926, Ross Island Sand & Gravel set up an aggregate mining operation on the island. In 1976, the Pamplin family purchased the company.
In 2001, Mayor Vera Katz and Pamplin announced a handshake deal to turn over a portion of the island to the city, pending negotiation of the details.
Earlier this year, Pamplin announced that the deal was off, blaming city foot-dragging, legal wrangling, unidentified “interest groups” and personal attacks in the media.
Environmentalists, current and former city officials, and others complained that Pamplin was reneging on his deal — and may have meant to do so all along.
In June, Pamplin unexpectedly invited three environmental leaders to join him in one last try to hash out their differences. The three were Mike Houck of the Urban Greenspaces Institute, Bob Sallinger of the Audubon Society of Portland and Willamette Riverkeeper’s Williams.
The subsequent session , the environmentalists said after Wednesday’s meeting, was a turning point. The four men eventually went through a proposed legal agreement line by line until they had forged something mutually acceptable.
“It really does sound like a cliché,” Houck said, “but when you sit down eye to eye across a table, it becomes harder to demonize someone.”
Pamplin also backed down on his stated plan to go it alone as far as preserving the habitat on the island. In May, he said that he would hire a nationally recognized consultant and preserve the habitat better than the city could.
Now, however, not only will the city prepare a management plan for the donated portion of land, but Pamplin will prepare a habitat plan for the land he retains with the participation of the same environmental “interest groups” he once criticized.
Pamplin, after the meeting, stressed that over the eight years since he first discussed the idea with the city, his goal has been to balance preserving 650 family-wage jobs while also doing the right thing for the environment.
Asked to discuss the earlier heated disagreements, he declined, saying, “Everything is wonderful.”
The only audience comment on the agreement was made by Sara Culp, who had staffed the donation talks early on in the Potter administration but no longer works in the mayor’s office.
She called Ross Island “a real gem,” and described a day years ago when she was paddling near the island with her family as “the moment when I realized I had truly fallen in love with the city of Portland.”