City, Kriegers to study groundwater flow below springs

<p>One of the city of Enterprise’s protected springs near Joseph State Airport.</p>

Owners of 32 acres near the city of Enterprise’s drinking water springs west of Joseph have been working to allay city officials’ concerns about a commercial zoning proposal there, but lingering uncertainty about the groundwater’s direction of flow continues to have the city worried.

S&V Properties, company principal Paula Krieger and her husband, Steve Krieger, last month were granted a 30-day delay from the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners (BOC) of the BOC’s scheduled March 4 hearing of S&V’s land use application. S&V, which in November won a 4-1 advisory vote from the county’s planning commission supporting the applicant’s request to rezone the property from “rural-residential” to “commercial,” asked for the delay to meet with Enterprise government and the city’s technical advisors on the groundwater-related issue. At the time, the Kriegers said they would be inclined to withdraw their application if they couldn’t end opponents’ doubts about the springs’ safety from contamination.

Steve Krieger and S&V’s attorney, Rebecca Knapp, met publicly last Thursday, March 28, with Enterprise city councilors and advisors to try to hammer out a plan of action agreeable to both sides. For his part, Krieger said he’d be willing to pay for a hydrological study on the Kriegers’ acreage, which sits near the southern end of Enterprise’s Watershed Protection Area (WPA). The city's springs are located near the WPA’s northern end.

The Kriegers and their technical advisors contend the groundwater at the southern end flows only toward the river, and never north toward the springs.

The city’s own technical contingent, while stopping short of confirming the applicant’s view of flow, so far aren’t disputing it either. Dennis Nelson, a senior hydrogeologist with Portland firm GSI Water Solutions Inc., took part in the WPA’s groundwater mapping in 2004. He joined Thursday’s discussion at Enterprise City Hall via speakerphone from western Oregon.

Nelson conceded that it was quite possible the southern end’s flow was to the river and not toward the springs. He agreed that a new flow study could help settle the question, and further suggested that county and city decision-makers should consider redrawing the WPA’s boundaries if it turns out the current area encompasses ground where contamination, if it occurred, wouldn’t pose a risk to the springs.

“If that groundwater is in fact moving exclusively to the Wallowa River,... to me that would be evidence that the … boundary should be moved accordingly,” Nelson said.

As city officials discussed further at a Monday night, April 1, meeting that didn’t include the applicant, the contemplated study could probably be accomplished soon and at low cost. It would primarily involve a hydraulic excavator digging three holes no deeper than 12 feet.

Monday night the city group also discussed another concession Steve Krieger had offered the previous week – to automatically rezone the property back to rural-residential if the Kriegers’ intended commercial occupant, the U.S. Forest Service, doesn’t select the site for its new local headquarters. City attorney Roland Johnson, after further reflection since last week’s meeting, rejected the idea, however. “I’m sure it would be illegal,” Johnson said Monday.

The Kriegers are scheduled to appear before the BOC again this Thursday, April 4, at which time they’re expected to ask the BOC to extend the delay of the rezoning hearing, perhaps by another 60 days.

Before the county commissioners take up the issue in earnest, the city of Enterprise hopes to know for sure whether the Kriegers’ property is indeed above water that flows away from the springs. And, if any portion of the site isn’t so safe for the springs, the city wants to negotiate for that portion’s removal from the application. The city will apparently await groundwater study results before deciding its next move.

“We’re not in a position to agree to anything until those test results come back,” Johnson said.

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