It could be several years before trees are cut on state land off U.S. Highway 101 between Arcadia Beach and Hug Point, but a proposed timber sale has already tapped into broader concerns about water quality, habitat conservation and tourism on the coast.
The Norriston Heights timber sale would result in a modified clearcut of more than 70 acres on the east side of the highway. The state expects to net just under $1 million — $938,550 — for the sale.
Two-thirds of the revenue will go to rural fire protection in Cannon Beach, public transit through Seaside and the Seaside School District, according to Jason Cox, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry.
But residents and property owners below the proposed cut worry a timber harvest could impact the quality and quantity of their drinking water. About 20 users — a mix of full-time and part-time residents and vacation homes — draw water sourced from small streams that flow through the state’s land and under the highway to their properties.
“Pretty much anybody who has a house between Arcadia Beach and Hug Point is going to be affected by this,” said Kristin Covert, an Astoria resident who owns property in the Arcadia Beach neighborhood with her husband. “They’re cutting right up to our water source.”
“It’s very tricky down there,” she added. “A lot of people have tried to build down there and been stopped because of the water issue and not being able to get enough.”
And there are other issues.
Over a dozen environmental and conservation groups — including the Audubon Society of Portland and Wild Salmon Center — as well as a mix of Clatsop County and Tillamook County residents, believe the harvest would have a detrimental effect on properties next door to state land where there are old growth tree stands, a particularly large and old cedar tree and a pocket of marbled murrelet habitat. The seabird is considered threatened in Oregon.
They also worry about the possibility of landslides onto Highway 101 when trees uphill are gone and wonder what the cut means for the scenic corridor along the highway that is such a draw for tourists.
‘A very unique piece’
Nadia Gardner, an Arch Cape resident and environmental advocate, understands the need for state timber revenue to fund local services.
“But this is a very unique piece with a lot of peril and impact on our local economy and wildlife,” she said.
The Norriston Heights timber sale, proposed by the state earlier this year, is a medium-sized sale for the state and will likely not go out to bid until October.
It could be several years before any trees are actually cut, said Ty Williams, assistant district forester with the state’s Astoria district office, which is managing the operation.
Typically, state contracts are good for two to three years, allowing the buyer time to complete harvest work but also play the market.
The property, bordered on two sides by industrial forestland, was last logged in the 1950s and the trees, primarily a mix of western hemlock and Sitka spruce, are around 66 to 68 years old. Slopes to the east and south were harvested roughly a decade ago.
Cox said the state has taken several measures to adjust to local concerns. The state has widened tree buffers along two of the streams and, taking coastal weather into account, will not allow harvest on the windward side of the property.
The property will be replanted with a mix of native species.
But timber harvests can impact everything from water runoff to soil stability, people familiar with water maintenance issues around Arcadia Beach and Hug Point said.
There are no specific water districts serving homes. The closest system resembling a water district is the Arcadia Sands Homeowners Association. In general, houses have individual, gravity-fed systems and water is collected in wells or stored in tanks based on the need of each system.
Property owners shoulder the cost of maintaining these systems. One surface water source in the Arcadia Sands neighborhood has had to deal with constant cleaning and removal of silt due to clearcut logging above the intake.
‘It’s our living’
Roger Neugebauer, a full-time resident, was one of the few neighbors who learned of the Norriston Heights proposal in time to send in testimony during a public comment period for the Department of Forestry’s annual operations plan.
He and his neighbors’ water systems require constant maintenance and they bear the full costs, he said, adding, “Very personally, it’s our water source and if we lost it, our house would be of no value, so it’s our living.”
Some people have reached out to state Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell, D-Astoria. When she was campaigning last year, Mitchell called for limits on timber harvesting when it could have negative environmental effects.
Mitchell does not believe a cut will damage the scenic nature of the highway, but said she still needs more information when it comes to her constituents’ other concerns.
“They are all things I’m interested in learning about, but I don’t necessarily have a conclusion on one way or another,” she said, adding that she trusts the forestry department and its scientists.
It is unlikely that harvest plans would change at this point, Williams said.
“We’ve done a pretty thorough review with our staff specialists on it,” he said, “but if there were some other information we weren’t aware of — I don’t know what it would be but you never know.”
It is standard practice for the Department of Forestry to reach out to neighboring property owners ahead of a harvest, though not necessarily ahead of a proposed sale as outlined in the annual operations plan, which comes with its own opportunity for public comment, Williams said.
The state had scheduled a question-and-answer session and tour on Tuesday, intended for property owners who might be affected by a future harvest at Norriston Heights. But Williams canceled the meeting after speaking with one of the water users last week.
Nadine Mathis Basha, who owns a second home in the Arcadia Sands neighborhood, told Williams that many of her neighbors do not live in the area and wouldn’t be able to attend a meeting on short notice. She asked to postpone the meeting and Williams agreed.
But others had mistakenly believed the meeting was open to the public. They took the state’s cancellation as a sign the forestry department did not want to engage with citizens. Many were already upset over what they saw as lack of notice ahead of the Norriston Heights proposal in the annual operations plan.
So they held a rally.
More than 60 people gathered at Hug Point on Tuesday, an event that drew people from elsewhere on the coast who have struggled to address water quality issues within their own communities.
The rally was a quiet demonstration, meant as a chance for people to exchange information and discuss ways to reach out to state officials about their concerns.
“If we really have the will and the goodwill to encourage them to think again about this cut, I do think we can turn it around,” Jan Siebert-Wahrmund, of the nonprofit Ecola Creek Awareness Project, told the crowd.
In a letter to the state, the nonprofit asked the Department of Forestry to manage the property for habitat to recover marbled murrelets, “or in the alternative, that you transfer the property to Oregon Parks and Recreation. The current clearcut proposal is truly unacceptable.”
‘We just need information’
Mathis Basha is waiting to hear back from the state about a new meeting date.
She has additional concerns about any uptick in logging truck traffic on a highway that is already very busy, especially at the height of summer tourism. But mostly she is looking for certainty about how the state plans to address possible water contamination due to harvest operations.
“We need to be as transparent as possible, all of us,” she said. “I really think there needs to be good dialogue, friendly dialogue hopefully. We can come to some agreement about how this can all work, but we just need information.”
“I think we have to see this with our own eyes and see what’s happening.”