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Poplar Project Clears Major Judicial Hurdle

Oregon's highest court won't hear poplar arguments

DALLAS -- After years of legal battles, the City of Dallas' plan to irrigate poplar trees with treated industrial wastewater will go forward this summer.

The Oregon Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal calling the poplar plantation an illegal farm use. Dallas officials plan to use treated effluent from Tyco Printed Circuit Group on the plantation, which is zoned for exclusive farm use.

The Supreme Court's action means the Oregon Court of Appeals decision from May 2001 stands and the irrigation can proceed.

Dallas' problems with wastewater began in the early 1990s, when the city's treatment system couldn't meet increasing environmental standards. After considering piping wastewater directly into the Willamette River to avoid restrictions on Rickreall Creek, Dallas came up with a two-part plan in 1996.

Under this plan, city officials built a new sewage treatment plant that discharges into Rickreall Creek. Treated industrial wastewater was to be moved to a pond near Orrs Corner and Bowersville roads, where it could be used to irrigate fast-growing poplar trees. The trees would then be sold for profit.

The plan drew criticism from Penny Cox and some neighbors calling themselves Friends of Clean Living. They argued that the poplar project was a utility facility, because the trees would treat the effluent.

Utilities, like those used to treat water, need to follow different procedures than farms.

The Land Use Board of Appeals sided with Cox, ruling in 2000 that the plantation was part of the treatment process and therefore not an acceptable land use in a farm zone.

The City of Dallas appealed the decision to the Oregon Court of Appeals, which overturned LUBA's ruling.

The poplar plantation is a farm use, said City Manager Roger Jordan. The City can harvest the trees for more than 100 years, he said, and the land will remain agricultural forever.

The current test plantation consists of five acres on property the City owns outside its urban growth boundary. If monitoring confirms the project is environmentally safe, the plantation will increase in size.

That expansion, likely to comprise more than 200 acres, will occur in three years, Jordan said.

Reuse of effluent is common throughout the state, said Dallas City Attorney Mark Irick. The most famous example may be the Oregon Garden, which uses water obtained from the City of Silverton, but cities irrigate other agricultural products with treated water.

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