In April of 2014 the Beaverton City Council approved a planning document that describes the wetland shown above as having the "highest preservation priority." The document is titled "South Cooper Mountain Concept & Community Plan." It has this to say about the area in which the wetland lies:
- Tier 2 habitat conservation priority areas may have a greater level of human disturbance or play a less crucial role in wildlife movement than Tier 1 areas, but they include valuable upland habitats, riparian habitats, or both that provide important ecosystem services. Some limited degree of disturbance should be allowed, but the fundamental habitat value and ecosystem services should not be lost or excessively compromised. (Bolded Italics mine)
In March of 2015 The Beaverton School District applied to the Corps of Engineers for a permit to fill 2.5 acres of this wetland with 77,000 cubic yards of rock, sand and gravel. This is necessary, the District maintains, in order to "construct mixed use athletic fields" for a new high school. These fields are in addition to a football/track/lacrosse stadium complex and a baseball field also designed to support soccer that will be constructed in other portions of the site.
How much will 77,000 cubic yards of rock, gravel and sand "disturb" 2.5 acres of wetlands? Here are a few mental images that might give you a sense for how utterly destroyed that wetland and every living thing in it would be:
- If the acreage were the base of a box, the sides of that box would have to be 20 feet tall to contain the material.
- Envision 2600 double trailer dump trucks lined up hood-ornament to tail-light on Scholls Ferry Road, all moving slowly towards that wetland.
- Imagine trying to get into the nearest Costco warehouse only to find it filled up to the five foot level with rocks, gravel and sand.
The public comment period for the District's application expired on April 8th. Now the Corps will review both the application and the comments received. Regardless the outcome of that process, the District and its architects must look forward to other permitting challenges. Significant wetlands are involved, so multiple agencies will have to be convinced that the District's desire for mixed-use athletic fields justifies the virtual destruction of significant wetlands. Included in that mix will be the Oregon Department of State Lands, the Environmental Protection Agency, Clean Water Services, and the City of Beaverton itself, just to name a few.
THE LAND IN BETWEEN
What made this particular wetlands so clearly "significant" to planners working on the South Cooper Mountain land use plan in the first place? Several possible factors come to mind.
The full extent of the largest of the two wetlands involved is visible in the upper third of the shot. While invasive species of vegetation are beginning to overtake parts of the surrounding area, the wetlands itself is remarkably free of blackberry, English ivy, reed canary grass and the other noxious weeds so prevalent in many other parts of the Tualatin Basin. Stormwater runoff enters this high-quality wetland from the north, east, and the south. To the west (photo left) stretches a series of wetlands that channels runoff from the southwest slopes of Cooper Mountain into the Tualatin river.
The soils in this area are generally comprised of remnant materials from the Missoula Flood that inundated the Tualatin Basin 12,000 years ago. They are inherently unstable and highly prone to large scale erosion, which is one reason why the Tualatin River's lower reaches are so silt laden. Disturbing existing vegetation and drainage patterns, even a little, can lead to rapid and catastrophic soil loss.
In an average year, between 150 and 200 million gallons of stormwater runoff begin their journey to the Tualatin River in this area. The vast majority of that runoff passes through this stretch of wetlands. Ecosystem services related to the treatment of runoff provided by the wetlands include bioiltration, phytoremediation, infiltration, and physical retention of sediments.
Given the madness that sometimes takes hold of critical land use decisions, it's possible that the District will be able to secure all the permits and win the potential legal battles that may be encountered before a valuable wetland resource is forever lost. All that could take a very long time and cost a bundle of money. But I hope that long before that happens, the District itself will look for optional approaches to dealing with the wetlands and other natural resources on the property. There's a pedagogical gold mine lying at the north end of that property, if the administration and its planners can step away from their current plan long enough to recognize it.
There's not room in this post for even a short exposition on STEM, Place based Learning, Integrated Curriculum, and Service Learning. Suffice it to say, for now at least, any and all these important pedagogical approaches to the learning/teaching process could benefit tremendously from having a good sized, fully-functional, thriving wetland at its disposal. Several Portland Metropolitan area schools have been able to harness the resources that streams and wetlands can bring to a curriculum. But few enjoy the luxuries of size, potential, proximity and inherent quality that this one could provide for a future high school.
The wetland is already a critical component of the South Cooper Mountain community's physical stormwater infrastructure. By using it for a living classroom and work-study area the school could help grow it into an enduring community hallmark. Multiple organizations - Tualatin Parks and Recreation Department, Clean Water Services and Tualatin Riverkeepers, just to name a few - are already working towards the goal of enhancing the county's inventory of natural resources, and almost certainly could be counted on to help support the process. Here's hoping the Beaverton School District will reach out to these resourceful organizations, as well as to the community, for help in finding an alternative to destroying a genuinely irreplaceable resource. Here's a link to the Beaverton School Board. I'm sure they would love to hear from folks interested in this matter.