Opinions seem to vary regarding vacation of road

Web-Editorial-Gary-MugHave you ever found yourself split on an issue, even though the answer seems to be obvious?

The Oroville City Council recently ruled in favor of vacating parts of two roads so that Oroville Reload and Reman, one of the town’s biggest private employers, can limit traffic to those that use the railhead.

In other words, keep residential traffic out and maintain the forklift and truck traffic that makes sense around heavy industry. That makes sense right? Allow in the trucks that have to do with the company, or other railhead users and not have to worry about residents or people who are just cruising down the road in order to keep them safe from potential accidents and allow the company to work more efficiently.

What happened is OR&R, which has used the heavy haul corridor from the border to Oroville’s railhead as a means of expanding both it’s wood manufacturing business and its reloading business onto train cars. They’ve expanded to where they straddle parts of both Jenning’s Loop Road and Ninth Street. So to get from their original footprint on the old Valley Evaporation Company side to the more recently acquired properties with their kilns and stockpiles of lumber, they need to drive forklifts and trucks back and forth. They see this as a potential safety issue with other users of the road and asked the city to vacate part of the road as a plan to relocate residential and non-industrial traffic down a newly designed route.

Toward this end the company petitioned for their properties outside the city limits to be annexed in and then for the road vacations. That’s where the disagreements seemed to start, the other main user of the road, Gold Digger Apples, seemed to object at first, but then appeared to be coming around. Of course that company’s future is so far up in the air, they really no longer have a say in the matter. However, the agreement was that all heavy industrial traffic, especially those needing access to the railhead would be accommodated by the road relocation plan. One nearby resident appeared at the vacation hearing to object, stating that she felt that this would increase forklift and truck traffic and the potential for an accident. Keeping in mind she said she had purposely purchased a house to rent in the industrial area with the goal of selling it in 10 years. Perhaps she wanted to be like some of her neighbors who had sold their homes and land to the company as it expanded. However, if you buy a house in an industrial area you can’t expect the companies there not to expand as their business grows. Truck and forklift traffic come with the territory, just as they have in the areas surrounding the apple warehouses for decades.

The other objections seemed to be a feeling that if they improved the road and access to the railhead, traffic will increase in adjoining areas. Those businesses between Bob Neil Road and the highway will probably feel the increase the most. Unfortunately, that’s a county road and the problem of people cutting through the businesses’ parking lots from Bob Neil Road to the highway is one that probably won’t be solved until the access to the highway is improved. Chris Branch, director of Community Development has said better access and widening of the road is part of the latest planning between the county and the city and to be funded these kind of issues need to be part of the overall transportation plan. It’s his hope that being part of the plan will help to address the issue in the future, but for now, Bob Neil Road belongs to the county, not the city.

So like a lot of issues it’s hard to not be split between what’s right for infrastructure around Oroville’s railhead and the jobs it has produced and that we hope it produces in the future and other existing businesses who fear it will exacerbate a problem that no government agency in the past has tried to solve.

We’re glad that Reman and Reload, as well as other potential railhead users, will have new infrastructure to help keep good jobs and create new ones in the future because the city council ultimately decided the way they did. However, we hope both the county and city work to try and elevate an existing problem where Bob Neil Road (and Fifth Street) come together at Highway 97.

About Gary DeVon

Gary DeVon is the managing editor of the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune and celebrated his 25th year at the newspaper in August 2012. He graduated from Gonzaga University with a degree in Communications - Print Journalism, with an emphasis in photojournalism. He is a proud alumnus of Oroville High School. His family first settled in Okanogan County in the late 1800s. His parents are Judy DeVon and the late Larry DeVon and he has two younger brothers - Dante and Michael. Many family members still call Oroville home. He has a grown daughter, Segornae Douglas and a young granddaughter, Erin.