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CL cautiously approves fire hall

By SUE RYAN

News staff writer

February 14, 2007

Cascade Locks City Council voted unanimously Monday night to put the construction of a new fire hall out to bid.

In a separate but related motion, the council also approved to have the site of the existing fire hall appraised for a potential sale.

The city has been awarded $700,000 in grant funding, which it must match part of in order to receive the grants. Approximately $600,000 would come from the sale of two city properties, the McCoy property that was sold last year and the current fire hall parcel.

The project aims to build a $1.2 to $1.4 million facility on land closer to Interstate 84 than its present location in the downtown business core. The current fire hall was built in 1956 of unreinforced concrete block. Besides structural issues, the building faces problems with electrical wiring, inadequate space for equipment and operations, and handicapped accessibility.

Although the vote gave the go-ahead to continue with the project, Cascade Locks faces a tight timeline to get the bid awarded to avoid losing a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant.

The council has four months from when the contract to administer the grant began on Jan. 4 to have the bid completed and awarded by May 4 or it loses the money entirely.

“The e-mail from Del Little (grant administrator) was quite stern; I was shocked,” said John Morgan. “But he was clear that if we don’t meet the deadline then we don’t get the money.”

The city approved having the CDBG grant executed with the state and having the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District to administer the grant on Nov. 27, 2006. Some work on the grant has continued, which includes an environmental assessment and archeological survey but not the bid process.

The delay on the matter is related to the tension that still riddles the town months after several fractious issues last year. Five of the seven council members are new to the council with two being appointed in the wake of a recall last fall related to the sale of the McCoy property intended to help finance the building of the fire hall. City Administrator Bob Willoughby left the city on Dec. 1 and cited conflicts with the incoming mayor, Roger Freeborn, as part of the reason for his departure.

Since then the city has had its planner, John Morgan, fill in as interim city manager on a part-time basis. Councilor Tom Brazille asked Monday night why the council had not dealt with the matter at its sole December meeting. Morgan replied that there had not been enough time to complete the work between Nov. 27 and Dec. 11 due to the holiday period.

“There was other work going on with the grant and grant management and I did not want to spend any more money on bid documents or specs until council gave us the go-ahead (on the bid),” Morgan said.

The council waited until mid-February to review the matter in light of concerns over lack of communication expressed by candidates during last fall’s election. As a way of addressing those concerns the council held an additional public hearing last week and waited another week to take the vote.

Freeborn said the delay between the hearing and the vote was his idea because the last time the council voted the same night as a public hearing in July on the McCoy property, the action led to a recall petition and removal of two city councilors.

The hearing Feb. 5 brought testimony for, against, and mixed on the proposed fire hall. Several people referred to the division among town members and said it was unfair to characterize them as being against the fire hall or its volunteers simply because they had questions about managing the city’s finances responsibly.

“There are a lot of emotions in this room,” said Josh Drake. “But I think people need to realize this is not about building the fire hall, this is about what it would take.”

Many supported the idea of the project being put out to bid and getting a market value on the fire hall property so the final pieces of knowing how much the project will cost can be completed.

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