EUGENE, Ore. -- Neighbors concerned about a large Eugene Water & Electric Board project in South Eugene have bought some more time with a last-minute appeal.
The state Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) granted a temporary halt on construction work related to the project to install two massive water storage tanks.
The order will temporarily stop tree removal, which began at the site on Monday. Residents gathered near the site at East 40th Avenue and Patterson Street Tuesday morning to make sure crews did not cut down more trees.
According to the order, EWEB was issued an erosion prevention permit by the City of Eugene on Friday that paved the way for the project to move forward. EWEB had just begun work to build two, 7.5-million-gallon water tanks. But some residents started the process of appealing the permit, arguing it authorizes logging of a mature conifer forest.
LUBA then issued a temporary stay that specifically stops the destruction of trees. Sandra Bishop, a former EWEB commissioner who has spoken critically of the project, said she understands the need for drinking water storage but questions the size of the work.
"We're saying yes, we need a reservoir: one reservoir,” Bishop said. “It's a 10.74-acre site. One reservoir takes a little over an acre. Why is it that EWEB could not see clear to do one reservoir [and] save and preserve the forest and also save the oaks?”
EWEB officials told KEZI 9 News only 25% of the 1,150 trees in the wooded area will come down if the project moves forward. They also said the trees they cut down will be used for things like habitat restoration, creating more healthy oak habitats in the area.
The construction is scheduled to last until 2023 when the College Hill Reservoir needs to be put out of service. That tank provides roughly 80,000 people in Eugene with clean drinking water.
Davey Jackson, who lives just down the street from the construction site, told KEZI 9 News while he understands the need for the project, he still doesn't appreciate his neighborhood being ravaged into something unrecognizable.
"I want EWEB to just slow down, actually engage in a public process, and stop this cutting. Like they're just bowling ahead and this was not really thought out, it wasn't well considered. And we need to think about the consequences about what it means to lose our forests, and are there places where we don't have to take down forests that we can accomplish these goals," said Jackson.
Officials for EWEB said pushback on the project was expected, but the longer the delay, the higher the cost of the project will be.
The city has until Aug. 9 to respond to the order.