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Oct. 24, 2021

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Paper mill land to become green space

Georgia-Pacific donates 181 acres to Camas

By , Columbian Staff Writer
Published:
5 Photos
Camas city administrator Pete Capell looks over water that was diverted from Round Lake toward the mill ditch area. Georgia-Pacific recently donated about 181 acres appraised at $960,000 that was owned by the Camas paper mill to the city to be used for green space and recreation. Top: The dam at Lacamas Park, which was recently donated to the city of Camas from Georgia-Pacific, is seen Thursday during the annual partial draining of Round Lake for maintenance work.
Camas city administrator Pete Capell looks over water that was diverted from Round Lake toward the mill ditch area. Georgia-Pacific recently donated about 181 acres appraised at $960,000 that was owned by the Camas paper mill to the city to be used for green space and recreation. Top: The dam at Lacamas Park, which was recently donated to the city of Camas from Georgia-Pacific, is seen Thursday during the annual partial draining of Round Lake for maintenance work. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

CAMAS — While the workforce at the Camas paper mill has declined this year due to layoffs, so too has the amount of land Georgia-Pacific owns in the city, as the company recently donated about 181 acres to Camas.

The agreement, which Camas city councils approved last week, gifts two dams, the mill ditch area and areas along the shorelines of Lacamas Creek and Washougal River to the city. The land must be used for green space and recreation, per the agreement. The total land donation was appraised at $960,000 on Aug. 15, according to Georgia-Pacific spokeswoman Kristi Ward.

“The Camas mill historically used Lacamas Lake surface water for operational purposes,” Ward said. “Over the last several years, the mill has been decreasing our water usage.”

In November, Georgia-Pacific announced it was going to shut down several operations at the Camas mill, including the communications paper machine, fine paper converting assets and pulping operations. Staggered layoffs started in May, cutting somewhere in the range of 280-300 jobs. Between 120 and 140 jobs remain at the historic mill, which opened in 1885 and in the 1980s employed around 2,400.

The mill’s declining water use combined with the recent shutdowns meant the mill had no use for the dams or other property. A staff report from the city said that mill officials said if the city wasn’t interested, they would look for another organization to take ownership, or possibly open the gates at the dam to lower the lake level and then demolish the dams. The dams help maintain the lake level at Round Lake, a recreation hot spot in Camas.

Georgia-Pacific will also give the city $10,000 to replace the wooden gates on the dams, which were constructed in 1883 by then-mill owners. The dams were originally designed with earthen construction reinforced by wood. In 1923, the dams were upgraded to wooden structures, which were replaced around 1935 with the current concrete dams. Before the agreement, the city had engineers inspect the dams, which were found to be in good shape, City Administrator Pete Capell said.

The city will hire one full-time employee in the Public Works department to maintain the dams. Since dam maintenance isn’t expected to require a full-time position, that employee will also assist with stormwater maintenance when not working on the dams, Capell said. Georgia-Pacific told the city it cost about $10,000 a year on inspections, minor repairs and other costs for the dam.

Capell said that price could go up as the city looks to automate and modernize part of dam operations. Currently, the gate operations for the dam are located on top of the dam, which is also part of a popular trail at Lacamas Park. While everything is locked, people walking and biking across the bridge have to avoid the gate operations.

Ideally, city officials want to build a floating bridge over Round Lake to connect the two sides of the trail so people don’t have to walk across the dam anymore.

The city has plans for the land, but most of that is depending on securing grant money. In addition to the floating bridge, city officials want to fill in the mill ditch and build a wider trail. Currently, there’s a narrow path along the ditch area with backyards on one side and a chain-link fence protecting people from falling in the murky-watered ditch on the other.

“We want this trail to connect to the city’s trail system,” Capell said. “What could help with grants is we can use the appraised price of the land as a match for grant money.”

The dams and ditch area is the first donation of land from the mill to the city since the recent layoffs. In May, the city announced it was going to lease about 40 parking spots in the lot east of Northeast Adams Street and north of Northeast Sixth Avenue from the mill for about $3,000 a year.

Prior to the donation and lease, records provided by Camas administrators showed that Georgia-Pacific owned 923 acres in Camas scattered across some green spaces, buildings and the dams and ditch. The land was worth $25.1 million, not including building values, which combined for $125.1 million in assessed value.

Capell said discussions about the dams and mill ditch area started two or three years ago, and Ward said Georgia-Pacific decided to donate the land in early 2018. The agreement between the two sides states that the effective date of the transfer was May 1.

The two sides have also discussed some other mill properties, including what Capell called the Camas Business Center, a few large white buildings with a parking lot on Northwest Seventh Avenue. Capell said city officials are looking at whether it would make financial sense to acquire the property and either clean it up or demolish it to make way for something else, and, if so, what that new thing would be.

“We have no intention of making the area a city complex,” Capell said. “If we find a beneficial use for it, we’ll consider it.”

Columbian Staff Writer
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