The City of Mosier has been ordered to stop working on its Waterfront Master Plan until charges of illegal construction have been resolved.
That order has been given by the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Office of the U.S. Forest Service. The agency contends that project coordinator Gay Jervey exceeded her authority by instigating work without following the proper permitting processes. The subsequent violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) have jeopardized $500,000 of federal grant funds.
“We want to work this out but we also need the city to cooperate and work out the issues that have occurred as a result of the project coordinator’s actions,” said Mike Ferris, public affairs officer for the Forest Service.
Jervey declined to comment for the article. However, in a written statement through the community newsletter, she took the Forest Service to task, accusing the agency of “misconduct” and using “intimidation” tactics on city officials. She is also demanding the retraction of a recent published story about the incident and surrounding issues.
“I do not personally enjoy these activities, they detract somewhat from the creative progress of life,” wrote Jervey. “However, people must be held accountable in some form for the damage that they do.”
But the Forest Service is concerned about the damage that Jervey may have done by not finalizing the master plan and then not following the draft model for developing 12 acres of Mosier’s shoreline. That work was made possible in 2001 when Congress authorized the expenditure as part of $10 million in recreation funds that were allocated under the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act.
“She was just not patient enough to pull parts of the puzzle together but this is a bureaucratic process because it involves public money,” said Ferris.
The Forest Service was the agency responsible for channeling the grant dollars to the city, who hired Jervey as its paid project manager. Ferris said the agency is also accountable to act on ESA violations pointed out by the National Marine Fisheries Service. And two of the Mosier Creek bridges have failed to meet NMFS’ standards. One structure was built lower than allowable in the flood plain and the second crossing was built with treated wood that could release toxins into the water.
In addition to problems with the Forest Service, the city has drawn fire from the Oregon Division of State Lands. That regulatory body is threatening to levy almost $24,000 of fines — $6,750 of which includes Jervey personally — for unauthorized labor to cut a trail through a protected riparian area, install unauthorized culverts and dump fill materials at the site.
“She has taken a lot of liberties that I think most people would not be willing to take — I don’t understand this attitude, it’s just amazing,” said Ferris.
He said since the spring of 2002 the Forest Service repeatedly had to warn Jervey to follow the rules and wait out the timeline for construction — a caution she repeatedly chose not to follow. By fall Ferris said the agency realized it had no alternative but to suspend all activities until the situation had been resolved.
To date, the Forest Service has reimbursed the city a little more than $74,000 of construction costs incurred during the past year. But some of the listed expenditures have failed to qualify under a special audit. That recent study by Dan Terry, a Forest Service staff accountant, determined that some expenditures were unauthorized because there was no “notice to proceed.” In addition, he questions procurement procedures, the city’s activity reporting system for employees and contractors paid on an hourly basis, and failure to obtain written quotes from three qualified bidders before assigning jobs.
“From the very beginning they were aware of what the criteria and standards were and I don’t know how we can justify some of those costs,” said Ferris.
Mosier City Council President Mike Kennedy isn’t sure whether Jervey, as the driving force behind the project, will be replaced as recommended by the Forest Service. He said steps have been taken to comply with ODSL directives and the Council will discuss the situation further at its March 19 meeting.
“I don’t know about replacing her because I don’t see anyone else stepping up and saying they want to do this,” Kennedy said.
Ferris said all possible steps need to be taken to resolve the outstanding issues and finish the waterfront plan — but this time by following the correct environmental guidelines.