Morning fog hangs over the Millpond Crossing work site on Tuesday morning. The city will put up safety fencing following the developer’s noncompliance with a work order issued in early November. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Eleven weeks after ordering Millpond Crossing’s developer to install construction fencing around excavated work sites within the local housing development, the Philomath City Council on Monday night decided to take the next step.

Since MPC Builders has not complied with the order, the city will be putting up temporary fencing around the site — and the developer ultimately will be required to pay for it.

Back on Nov. 7, the city issued a stop work order to developer Levi Miller to halt construction at new home sites under development on South 16th Street between Timothy Street and Chapel Drive. The city said the work was not in compliance with approved grading plans.

Among the other items included in the order was a requirement to install six-foot cyclone fencing, no trespassing signs and limited entry points. City Manager Chris Workman told Miller that “your site now qualifies as an attractive nuisance by Philomath code and needs to be encompassed by fencing in order to protect the public.”

Winter rain has led to water pooling in the excavated areas on the east side of 16th. Families with small children live directly across the street and next door to the work site.

After spending an hour in an executive session discussing legal matters and real estate issues, City Councilor Teresa Nielson made a motion to authorize the city manager to install safety fencing around the perimeter of the area. Responding to a question about the cost of the action, City Attorney Jim Brewer confirmed that it would be a charge-back to the developer who ignored the request in the work order. The vote passed unanimously.

Workman estimated that the city will need to rent approximately just under 2,000 linear feet of 6-foot high fencing to enclose the area, which carries the label by the city of “attractive nuisance” — a property that is likely to attract kids where the owners would be held liable for injuries to children that trespass.

DEQ to ease methane precautions

Millpond Crossing’s current residents will also be receiving good news concerning a decision by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to ease precautions that had been in place.

In August 2021, residents received a list of recommended precautionary measures that included no outdoor flames and to avoid things like power tools and powered lawn mowers that could generate sparks in connection with a methane investigation at the former mill site.

Anthony Chavez, Oregon DEQ project manager/geologist, told Workman in a Jan. 20 email that the precautions were going to be withdrawn based on a clearer understanding of the potential risks. The decision was made in consultation with the Oregon Health Authority and Philomath Fire & Rescue.

“At that time (August 2021), the precautions were recommended out of an abundance of caution, since very little was known about the methane issue at the site,” Chavez said. “Subsequently, the developer has collected extensive methane data within onsite structures and confined spaces, and within subsurface soils across the development site.”

Chavez said DEQ was in the process of drafting updated precautions for the occupants which will focus on asking residents to not tamper with crawl space fans, methane alarms and soil gas monitoring points.

On Jan. 18, residents received notice that work was to begin this week to “complete further environmental assessment of biogases in soil at two focused areas of the developed portion of the Millpond Crossing neighborhood.”

Payout to former employee

The City Council after coming out of the executive session on Monday night also unanimously approved a motion to “authorize the city manager to enter into a settlement agreement on behalf of the city of Philomath.”

Councilors did not discuss the matter in open session to explain the circumstances related to the decision. Workman confirmed that the payout involves an issue with a previous employee.

“The potential was brought to us that the employee was requesting some additional funds based on their termination with the city,” Workman said. “And so, between the lawyers, a settlement was done in order to settle the matter.”

Workman said the amount of the settlement could not publicly be disclosed.

The City Council’s executive session followed a joint meeting with the Philomath Planning Commission in which City Planner Pat Depa provided an overview of implementing updated comprehensive plan policies.

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.

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