The City of Ashland in 2011 agreed to extend water and sewer service to the Siskiyou Welcome Center and Rest Area (SWCRA) project proposed by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) on a parcel of land next to Interstate 5, south of Crowson Road, just outside the City limits. When the Council agreed to extend water and sewer in 2011, they ordered a four-year time limit within which ODOT would have to complete the project. Due to numerous land use appeals, ODOT was unable to start construction and cannot possibly meet the four-year deadline.
At ODOTís request, the Council on February 17, 2015 considered a resolution to lift that four-year contingency. The resolution was approved by a Council vote of 4-2.
Here are some frequently asked questions and answers regarding the SWCRA.
Why did Ashland give land use approval to the rest area?
Ashland is not the land use approval agency, so there was no land use application to approve or deny. The approval agency is Jackson County, and Jackson County granted land use approval to this project in 2009. That approval has been through multiple appeals and survived them all. The approval also contained a condition requiring ODOT to get water and sewer service from the City of Ashland.
When did Ashland agree to extend water and sewer services to the SWCRA?
The City of Ashland agreed to extend water service in June 2011. However, that approval came with several important contingencies: 1. That the project be completed within four years; 2. That the project include a staffed welcome center; 3. That there be an intergovernmental agreement between ODOT and the City for the provision of water and sewer service; and 4. That the welcome center include a reporting station for the Oregon State Police.
The Councilís February 17 decision lifted only one of those contingencies: That the project be completed by June 21, 2015.
If the Council had refused to lift that contingency, wouldnít it have killed the project?
Probably not. Following a fatal accident in 1997, ODOT received permission from the Federal Highway Administration to shut down a rest stop it formerly operated at mile post 10 on I-5 northbound. However, that permission came with a requirement that ODOT replace the rest stop with another rest stop in the same vicinity as soon as possible. ODOT is still under that Federal Highway Administration directive.
(An ODOT-provided timeline of the project can be found by clicking here. The timeline begins on page 10 of the .pdf file. An ODOT FAQ about the project begins on page 27.)
If the Council had refused to lift the four-year contingency, it would mean only that ODOT upper management would have to make a business decision. That business decision presents ODOT with two basic choices:
1. Identify a different source of water and build the rest stop anyway Ė that could be with or without a welcome center. This would require them to seek a modification of their land use conditions of approval from Jackson County, which could lead to a new round of appeals and delays.
2. Abandon the notion of replacing the rest stop altogether and face whatever consequences the Federal Highway Administration might impose, assuming the Federal Highway Administration would even allow ODOT to do so.
Couldnít ODOT just move the rest area to a different location?
ODOT has indicated they donít consider that to be a viable option, particularly because the agency has already invested more than $2 million in the site south of Crowson Road.
The Cityís in a drought and waterís a precious resource. If ODOT can build the rest stop without City water, why not let them do it?
The estimated daily water use at the SWCRA is estimated at the equivalent of 3.7 houses, so itís not a significant impact. If ODOT proceeds without the Cityís cooperation, the City loses any leverage it might have with regard to enforcing specific terms and conditions regarding security, fire resistance, landscaping and many other issues of importance to the City and neighbors of the site. In addition, thereís a possibility, if not a probability, that ODOT would build a rest area without a welcome center. While it may be true that fewer people use welcome centers than in the past, the welcome center provides for a staff presence, which significantly enhances the security and safety of the site. Our local and regional economic development partners continue to strongly support having a welcome center in conjunction with the rest area.
How can the City address safety and other concerns at the SWCRA?
ODOT still needs to negotiate an intergovernmental agreement with the City, which must be approved by the City Council before City water is provided to the project. This was another key contingency of the Councilís 2011 action, and we can seek to include in the IGA assurances about many of the issues that have been raised by neighbors and Councilors. These issues include:
Security, including perimeter fencing, surveillance cameras, and site access for the Ashland Police Department.
Landscaping and herbicide use.
Welcome Center staffing and on-site accommodations for volunteers.
Water use issues, including agreement to participate in any mandatory curtailment measures that are applied to the rest of the City and penalties for excessive water use.
Fire issues, including fire-resistant landscaping and building materials and sprinklers in the buildings.
When that intergovernmental agreement comes back to the Council for review and approval, the City will essentially be in the same position as it was in on February 17: determining whether or not to lift a key contingency in the Cityís agreement to provide water. If it is the Councilís decision to reject the negotiated IGA, then City water will not be extended to the project, but as explained above, that does not necessarily kill this project.