The city of Camas has added 190 acres of open space to its pocket.
The Camas City Council unanimously approved the transfer of $960,000 worth of Georgia-Pacific (G-P) property to the city’s inventory at a city council meeting Monday, Sept. 17. The area includes the former G-P mill ditch and two Lacamas Creek dams, which create Lacamas and Round lakes.
“We talked earlier tonight about legacies,” said Camas Mayor Scott Higgins during his final city council meeting in office. “I would say, by accepting this gift by George Pacific — much of it very green and usable by our community — there has been some more legacy created.”
The donation comes four months after the G-P paper mill began its staggered layoff of nearly 300 mill workers, ended its pulp production and shut down the “Roaring 20” office paper line in May 2018. The property being transferred to the city represents 20 percent of the more than 950 acres of land G-P owns in and around Camas.
In his staff report to city council members, Camas City Administrator Pete Capell recommended council approve of the agreement, citing the “significant recreational and aesthetic benefits” to the city of Camas and its residents.
Capell has said the city intends to convert the mill ditch to a multi-use trail, which would connect to existing paths, open spaces and downtown Camas.
“These gifts from Georgia-Pacific will be valued by the citizens of Camas for years to come. We could not be more appreciative,” Higgins said in a press release.
The city on Monday acknowledged the area will be public, categorized as “open space or park space.” The final agreement prevents the city from using the space’s groundwater for drinking water and disallows use “for any school, day care center or any similar use by or for children.” Camas is required to erect and maintain a memorial sign on the property commemorating G-P’s donation within 12 months.
According to the staff report, if the city hadn’t agreed to this deal, G-P indicated they would seek alternative ownership, explore demolition of the 82-year-old dams and open their gates in November.
Over a 150-day review period beginning May 1, 2018, city leaders determined the area was in suitable condition to accept and maintain, according to the report. This review included an engineering analysis of the dams and a review of their maintenance and operation. City staff explored permitting and oversight with Washington state and determined the cost of insurance premiums to cover the dams in event of breach or failure.
Insurance premiums, estimated at $247,845 per year, will likely be pulled from the city’s stormwater fund reserves and supplemented by additional funds set aside yearly. The city determined a breach would likely only happen in the event of a major disaster, in which case the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would become involved.
In their review, Camas staff found the dams in generally good structural condition, with the only major exception being wooden gates requiring replacement at the upper dam. G-P agreed to provide $10,000 for that expense. Maintenance of the dams is estimated to require one full-time employee, funded through the city’s stormwater utility.
The council also discussed a G-P owned site located in downtown Camas — not connected to the property donation — being considered as a potential landing place for a Camas-Washougal community center.
Capell said a consulting team is set to tour the property, originally used as a non-fiber paper production site and then to store paper mill materials, later this week.