Save the Redwoods, Part II: When Billy Heron helped unite a community

It’s especially hard to organize folks these days. You can’t call a meeting.   It’s tough to talk and listen with masks on.

Yet suburban folks west of Portland Oregon are organizing against a  developer’s plans to build a Chevron gas station/mini-mart adjacent to wetlands, big trees, and a Park Greenway.

On just a few weeks notice, they’ve organized by the dozens into a group titled Protect Bethany Lake Environmental. Over 200 of them have submitted opposing comments to the County.

One unusual reason some of these folks made contact with each other, is that Billy the Heron strutted its stuff at the waterfall where Bethany Lake tumbles into Rock Creek.  Every afternoon for a couple of weeks,  Billy posed there, snatching an occasional stunned fish, while dozens of folks slowed their daily walks to admire the heron’s statuesque beauty.

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It seemed almost magical, the heron posing under the waterfall, but anglers may have driven Billy away from his other fishing spots.

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Here, fishie fishie.

We began trading Heron pictures on our Neighbor to Neighbor website.  People began reporting heron sitings; at the ponds by the condos,  the wetlands by the supermart,  and its low flights over the neighborhoods, for stops on peoples’ roofs.  Some had named it Harry the Heron. (I didn’t tell them the heron’s name was really Billy.)

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Billy has pooped on many peoples’ roofs.  They are thrilled the heron dropped by.

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Billy on a nearby chimney.

I went to see Billy by the waterfall almost every day.  Usually when Billy visits my yard,  it freaks out and flies away if I’m within 50 feet. But here it was with a dozen people whispering,  20 feet away,  taking pictures with their phones, and the Heron is acting as if they didn’t exist.  It was uncanny.  



So there was already a Heron admiration society in full wing, thanks to Billy, before the Developer announced plan to build a Chevron station and mini mart on a lot bordering a creek in the Park Greenway, and cutting down 20 mature trees  that shade the creeks where Billy fishes.  

The Developer has targeted land with mature redwoods.  A nearby creek would be only 40 feet from the gas pumps.  Hundreds of people walk the Greenway daily and use the nearby community garden.  They fish on Park lands within a few feet of the proposed station.

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A bear clawed on the middle tree; how recently?  That’s two sequoia redwoods on the left, and a old doug fir on the right.  These trees are doomed.  I’ve seen eagles in these trees. 

  Their view of a riparian area with twenty trees will be replaced with a Chevron sign.  Cutting down the mature firs, pines, and redwoods will also reveal the garish Albertsons and Starbucks sign that the existing large trees now block.

I walk the Greenway daily, looking for Billy,  if it’s not too hot. So I didn’t want the gas station, either. 

I explored the proposed gas station site.  There’s a 8 foot deep sinkhole where they want to bury some 40,000 gallons of gasoline and diesel in tanks.  They want to bury the tanks oh so close to the floodplain, and actually under the groundwater table.

Another Kossack and I trespassed and measured and we think they have mis-measured elevations. That means the floodplain is closer to the site than they say. 

I’ve blogged about this in more detail here:  www.dailykos.com/…

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Is this a stable enough area to bury tanks of gasoline near a wetland?

Some of the Heron lovers began blogging against the development, and of course I pitched in. Billy Heron or its relations have visited my own backyard ponds for 15 years. 

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Billy Heron visits me more often than my own son. 

I’ve seen Billy down at the Lake all of that time, too, so I have strong, but unrequited feelings for the heron. 

The gas station plans to dump 500,000 gallons a year of parking lot runoff into the wetlands just a few yards from where I’ve seen Billy reducing the bullfrog population. 

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The wetland is a good place to raise baby ducks now, but people will be pumping gas just 40 feet away if the station goes through.

The Lake already floods every winter.  Sometimes the bridge where we watch Billy in the summer, is under water in the winter.  The station will add a half-million gallons of tainted runoff annually, and make that problem worse.

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The fragmented wetlands cannot handle all the storm water runoff now.

The developer doesn’t want to pay for the street improvements to accommodate the station.  The County would have to give up rights-of-way and easements, to fit the station into a long thin lot.

I put in eight pages of criticisms on-line against the project. During the virtual hearing,  I asked the hearings officer if he’d  received my comments.  He said yes.  But the other day the County e-mailed me and said well, they hadn’t received my e-mailed comments.

Responses like that give me pause.  I think we’ve gone as far as we can without a lawyer.  The next hearing is on August 20.  I’ve set up a GoFundMe account so we can hire an attorney. I’ve asked a couple of firms for Pro Bono work but they said they were too busy and this was too short notice. The good news is we’ve already raised over $700 from the neighborhood!

My GoFundMe link is https://www.gofundme.com/f/protect-bethany-lake

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Billy asks that you give what you can.