Tribal Government & News

Tribal Council announces pursuit of Blue Heron mill site in Oregon City

06.12.2019 Dean Rhodes Tribal Council, Economic development
The Blue Heron paper mill site in Oregon City. (Photo by Timothy J. Gonzalez/Smoke Signals)

By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

The Grand Ronde Tribe is attempting to purchase two pieces of property in Clackamas County along the Willamette River, including the 23-acre Blue Heron paper mill site, Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy announced during the Wednesday, June 12, Tribal Council meeting.

“Our Tribal leaders who fought for our Restoration had a vision for the Grand Ronde Tribe that included cultural revitalization and strengthening our ties to our homelands,” Kennedy said while reading a prepared statement. “Recently, the Tribe was blessed with the opportunity to place two properties within our Clackamas County homelands under purchase and sale agreements.”

Kennedy said the properties include more than a mile of waterfront along the Willamette River. “This property will provide us with access to the river as well as open up new opportunities to work with our partners on future projects,” she said.

The other property, the 23-acre Blue Heron site at Willamette Falls, was called a “cornerstone” to the Tribe and its Tribal fishing culture by Kennedy.

“Should the Tribe purchase the property, we’re excited to work with Metro, as well as local, state and federal partners in a collaborative manner to shape the future of the property,” Kennedy said. “Both of these properties are in various stages of due diligence and we will keep the membership informed as we move forward.”

Tribal Council Chief of Staff Stacia Hernandez said that a Tribal team is performing due diligence regarding the Blue Heron property, including review of documents related to any potential environmental cleanup issues at the site.

The Blue Heron paper mill closed in 2011 and has been dormant ever since.

In November 2014, Oregon City officials approved a zoning change that opened up the industrial site to future shops, restaurants, offices, housing and, most importantly, public access to Willamette Falls.

During the Tribe’s 2018 effort to build a removable platform at Willamette Falls, access became an important safety issue after Portland General Electric revoked permission for Tribal members and staff to traverse its West Linn property. Tribal members and staff were forced to ferry supplies and people to build the platform across the rapidly flowing Willamette River from the Oregon City side.

Tacoma, Wash., developer George Heidgerken currently owns the Blue Heron site, which he purchased for $2.2 million in 2014. It is covered with approximately 50 buildings, most of which have little historical value.

If the purchases go through, it will mark the second major real estate acquisition by the Tribe in the Portland metropolitan area. In 2015, the Tribe purchased the defunct 31-acre Multnomah Greyhound Park in Wood Village. Although the Tribe announced in 2018 that it planned to sell the site without developing it, those plans were put on hold after Economic Development Director Bruce Thomas was hired.

Kennedy was quoted by Willamette Week as saying that the Tribe has no plans to build a casino at the Blue Heron site. She added that Grand Ronde has invested heavily in Spirit Mountain Casino and is committed to keeping it the state’s No. 1 gaming facility.

On Tuesday, June 11, a more than $17 million supplemental budget hearing announcement regarding acquisition of unspecified ceded lands in Clackamas County was posted in the glass cases at the front of the Governance Center. The hearing will be held during the next Tribal Council meeting on Wednesday, June 26.


Hunting seasons, tags OK’d

Tribal Council also approved hunting seasons and tags on Reservation and trust lands for the fifth consecutive year at its June 12 meeting.

Fish & Wildlife Program Manager Kelly Dirksen said during the Tuesday, June 11, Legislative Action Committee meeting that this year’s hunting program is almost identical to last year’s and that Tribal hunters have consistently experienced a 9 percent success rate.

With approval of the Tribe’s Wildlife Management Plan by the Oregon Fish & Wildlife Commission in September 2014, the Tribe regained sovereignty to set Tribal hunting seasons outside of state-sanctioned hunting seasons, as well as determine how many tags could be issued for hunting on Reservation and trust lands.

In the first four years of the program, 1,174 applications for hunting tags have been received by the Natural Resources Department and 204 hunting days have been designated by Tribal Council. Of the 279 tags issued, 25 have been filled.

The 2019 Tribal hunting seasons will offer 87 tags across early and late hunting seasons. There will be seven hunting seasons with three for black-tailed deer and four for Roosevelt elk.

The earliest Tribal hunting season will start on Sept. 23 for black-tailed deer and the latest will run through Dec. 17 for Roosevelt elk.

Dirksen said that the consistent 9 percent success rate is unlikely to affect deer and elk populations on the Reservation and trust lands.

In other action, Tribal Council:

  • Approved the Bob Mercier Logging Unit as presented by the Natural Resources Department. The unit’s timber harvest is projected to net the Tribe $447,173. The logging unit is named after a longtime Timber Committee and Tribal Council member who walked on in September 2018;
  • Approved the Tribe’s application for a $62,500 Emergency Management Performance Grant that helps pay for the Emergency Management coordinator and assistant at the Grand Ronde Tribal Police Department. The state grant requires a dollar-for-dollar match from the Tribe;
  • Approved re-appointing Ralph Baker and Steve Nuttall to the Grand Ronde Gaming Commission with three-year terms that will expire in June 2022;
  • And approved the enrollment of one infant into the Tribe because he or she meets the requirements outlined in the Tribal Constitution and Enrollment Ordinance.

Also included in the June 12 Tribal Council packet were approved authorizations to proceed that:

  • Allows Tribal Council member Kathleen George to serve on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Board of Directors and approves an annual membership of $3,000;
  • Transfers $27,671 from contingency to the Youth Education budget to fund 11 additional youth to participate in Summer Youth Employment program;
  • Approves a $2,500 expenditure so that the Cultural Resources Department can become a member of the Cultural Advocacy Coalition, a nonpartisan advocacy group formed to lobby state policymakers to ensure all Oregonians have access to arts and culture in their communities;
  • Directs Tribal staff to develop a one- to two-page summary on Willamette Falls that documents the Tribe’s historical connection to the falls and its cultural significance;
  • And directs General Manager David Fullerton to work with Spirit Mountain Casino General Manager Stan Dillon to sell and remove the modular building at the casino that was used by the Tribal police.

A video of the entire meeting can be viewed on the Tribal government’s website at by clicking on the News tab and then Video.