Affirming their goal of reaching a win-win resolution, the Grants Pass City Council passed a resolution on March 20, 2019, declaring a public need for acquisition of property currently held by Copeland Sand and Gravel located at 695 SE J Street. Council desires the new Water Treatment Plant to be located in a manner most compatible with the greatest public good and least private injury. This resolution passed by Council formally begins a process involving additional negotiations, and the ability for the City to do environmental assessments, including geotechnical analysis and topographical surveys. This resolution does not initiate eminent domain proceedings. Further Council action is required to start the eminent domain process.
Council has a goal to move forward with a mutually acceptable outcome for the City and operators of the Copeland Sand and Gravel site. The City has provided a number of offers for the property, some of which allows the operators, represented by the Ausland Family, to retain businesses at the location while providing a fair price for the property. The City does not require ownership of all the 16.94 Acres.
The City began discussions with the Auslands in 2018 with an understanding they represented willing sellers. The City only considered use of declaring a public need for acquisition and eminent domain proceedings after an appraisal of fair market value and multiple offers and counter offers were exchanged. The failure to settle on equitable terms to enter the site for environmental assessments and move forward with an appraised fair purchase price creates unacceptable schedule delays with significant cost implications for the water ratepayers of Grants Pass.
City Council has based decisions to acquiring property for the new Water Treatment Plant based on:
- The Grants Pass City Council seeks a win-win, fair resolution for its water ratepayers, business operators and the Copeland Sand and Gravel parcel property owners.
- The Public Health and Safety of Grants Pass residents and visitors is the primary and on-going priority of the Council.
- The Council has a fiduciary responsibility to act as good stewards for the City’s resources. These responsibilities require that decisions regarding property acquisition are fiscally sound and represent the best use of public funds.
- The Council’s stated goals are to maintain, operate and expand our infrastructure to meet community needs by providing a location for a new Water Treatment Plant. Clean, affordable water is essential to continued viability of the Grants Pass community.
- The City values and recognizes the contributions of the Copeland Sand and Gravel businesses to the community over several decades.
- The City has been in informal negotiations with the operators since October 2018 and began presenting multiple offers and counter offers in January 2019. The goal has always been to achieve a negotiated agreement with a willing seller before formal resolution of a price and terms by a court is required.
The City Council has been engaged in discussions related to property acquisition for siting of the Water Treatment Plant Replacement since 2017. Extensive investigations were conducted to identify several promising sites. A more in-depth analysis was then conducted to determine the best option based on criteria that included cost. Cost for the Copeland parcel was determined in 2017 using an appraisal approved by the operator of the site, Mr. Ausland. At the time, it was the understanding of the City that Mr. Ausland was a willing seller. The City entered negotiations with what they believed were willing sellers interested in transitioning the business.
Good faith discussions with the site operators have resulted in multiple offers and counter offers. The primary area of dispute has been the date of acquisition and some terms related to continued occupation of portions of the property.
The City Council has always expressed a preference for negotiations with willing sellers. Discussions related to the use of eminent domain procedures only began after the failure to close negotiations. These delays create an unacceptable budget impact and increase risks associated with delays in replacing a very aging Plant.
The City will actively continue to engage in negotiations until those discussions are no longer productive.
Why a new water plant?
The City’s Water Treatment Plant has faithfully served the Grants Pass residents over the last 87 years. Turn on a tap and out comes an unending supply of good, safe drinking water. The water currently produced by the Treatment Plant is of the highest quality. However, ensuring reliable delivery of water to our community is becoming increasingly more challenging.
The Plant is the City’s only source for treating and supplying drinking water. However, built in 1931, it does not meet current building codes and seismic requirements. The walls are crumbling and the structures are no longer sound.
In the event of an earthquake, it is highly likely the Plant would be damaged beyond repair and would no longer be able to treat and supply safe drinking water. Several specialized engineering firms the City has contracted with to assess the Plant have agreed on this point. The City Council formed a Water Treatment Plant Taskforce, consisting of community members, to consider Water Treatment Plant repair or place options. The Taskforce recommended the City construct a new Water Treatment Plant.