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District clears natural area by mistake.

Byline: Anne Williams The Register-Guard

Prompted by a couple of student reports of a stranger lurking in the woods and at least one safety complaint from a parent, the Eugene School District last week had a contractor clear away brush and tree limbs from an access road east of Spencer Butte Middle School.

Problem was, this was no ordinary flora. The area - roughly 10 feet wide and 600 feet long - was the site of the Spencer Butte Natural Area, a grant-funded project that included removal of invasive species; improvements to a spur trail to make it wheelchair-accessible; and the addition of more than $600 worth of native plants. Although blackberry and poison oak had crept back in in the past several years, the site still supported wild rose, trillium, Indian plum, fawn lily, sword fern and other native species.

Now the district, which was obligated under the terms of the grant to maintain the area, is scrambling to undo the damage.

`When facilities (officials) contracted the work out, they didn't know what the situation was,' district spokesman Kelly McIver said Thursday. "It was an innocent mistake, it shouldn't have been cut and we're going to fix it."

It was neighbor Tanis Rovner who blew the whistle, contacting other neighbors, district officials, the original project coordinator, City Councilor Betty Taylor and the city planning official whose office awarded the $6,552 matching grant.

Rovner knew who to contact thanks to a large sign in front of the access road - one that apparently raised no red flags for district officials who ordered the work - that describes the project and its history.

Rovner and her two children, Spencer Butte sixth-grader Savannah Sales and Edgewood Community Elementary fourth-grader Brody Sales, have walked the path, which connects the two schools, for more than six years. They did so the morning of Nov. 2. Nothing was amiss then, but when Rovner returned to pick up Savannah after school, she saw a debris-strewn swath, cleared of virtually all plants and shrubs, as well as a couple of trees.

"I still get sick to my stomach when I think about it," said Rovner, noting that the neighborhood's woodsy feel is one of its top selling points. "It's like my backyard."

While Rovner contacted officials and chased down grant documents, Savannah and a friend, Erika Johnson, circulated a petition asking for the site to be restored, collecting 93 signatures this week; their younger brothers also collected signatures at Edgewood. Rovner got a call from McIver on Wednesday, and on Thursday morning bumped into him and some of the people originally involved in the project on the trail.

The group assessed the area and agreed that the contractor - who did the work for no charge - had indeed damaged plants that were to be protected.

McIver said that, assuming higher-level administrators sign off on the plan, the district will review documents to determine what plant species were planted where; contact the original consultant, Walama Restoration Project, for an estimate on advising the district on what should be replanted and what will grow back on its own, as well as how to properly maintain the area; purchase necessary native plant stock; work with the city to organize a volunteer effort to restore the area; and work with the schools, city and neighbors to craft a maintenance plan that will satisfy safety, environmental and aesthetic concerns.

He said the remediation will begin as soon as possible. He's not sure what the cost will be, but anticipates that it should be just a few hundred dollars.

"I'm thrilled with the response," Rovner said Thursday. "It really seems like they want to do the right thing."
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Title Annotation:Environment; Reports of a stranger near a school led to the leveling of a protected patch
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 10, 2006
Words:611
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