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Residents form 'Save the Phoenix Wetland', call on officials to enact riparian setbacks

The wetland is located near Blue Heron Park in Phoenix. (Ambar Rodriguez/News 10)
The wetland is located near Blue Heron Park in Phoenix. (Ambar Rodriguez/News 10)
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A group of Southern Oregon residents came together to call on Phoenix city officials to adopt an ordinance that would create riparian setbacks around spring-fed wetlands throughout the city.

The Rogue Valley residents said they formed the ‘Save the Phoenix Wetland’ community group in response to a potential sale of land near one of the spring-fed wetlands located in the heart of the city.

“We've just gone through this terrible fire, and the development of wetlands is so important and can be a buffer for that,” said Phoenix resident, Pam Thornhill.

The spring-fed wetland is located at the entrance of Blue Heron Park, which was hit hard by the Almeda fire in September of 2020.

Currently, the City of Phoenix only has riparian setbacks for Class 1 and Class 2 streams, but none for un-named streams or wetlands.

“For so many people, you know, our lots are shrinking and they don’t have the outdoor access, and the mental health that it (nature) brings to people is important," Thornhill said.

Thornhill explained that she began taking her children to the park near the wetland when they were toddlers and has now carried on the tradition with her grandchildren.

“We've seen this park spring up, our friends and neighbors get involved in all aspects of the park, from the gardens they planted to the playgrounds, we need to be able to hand that down to our grandchildren, including the wetland,” she said.

The group is calling on city officials to ensure the spring-fed wetland is protected, by enacting riparian setbacks around un-named streams and wetlands throughout the city.

They said the property is in the process of being bought to be developed into an RV park.

“We are still recovering from the devastating fire, we are bringing in multi-family housing, and there are a lot of efforts to try to create structures so our community can rebuild, but every now and then there are really special places that are there for all of those people to come to enjoy and embrace," said Robert Coffan, a Rogue Valley resident. “This is one of those places.”

The residents said in order to ensure the wetland is protected, the city would need to adopt an ordinance that provides a 25 to 50-foot buffer around the wetland.

‘Save the Phoenix Wetland’ member, Scott English, said he has over 40 years of experience working with wetlands and streams.

English explained it is vital to protect the wetland near Blue Heron park, especially as the stream provides cold water to Bear Creek and the salmon that live in it.

“These spring systems provide this incredible source of cold water to the Bear Creek during critical times of the year for salmon survival,” English said. “It allows these young fish to find these pockets of cold water, which is critical for them to survive spawning season in the creek.”

English said if a developer were to build directly next to the edge of the wetland, it could potentially impact the freshwater source and harm the local ecosystem.

"If there is no protection there can be problems with sentiment and runoff from these developments, it could provide pollutants that would enter the system, and they would create wide-open spaces allowing thermal energy to hit the water, creating higher water temperatures," English said.

The group said the city was sent a letter from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recommending city officials enact riparian setbacks

Joe Slaughter, the community and economic development director for the City of Phoenix, confirmed with News 10 that the city was sent a letter from ODFW regarding the riparian setbacks.

Slaughter said the council will discuss the letter during its first meeting in February, but would not elaborate on details of the letter until the council reads it and then he said it would be up to them to adopt any riparian setbacks.

The group has been posting the latest information and updating residents on their fight to protect the wetland on their ‘Save the Phoenix Wetland’ Facebook page.

They are asking residents to contact the Phoenix City Council, Phoenix Urban Renewal Agency, and state representatives to urge them to protect wetlands and streams.

“Wildlife is struggling to survive everywhere, and it is important to protect every drop of water that we can,” Wanda Borland, a Rogue Valley resident said. “It’s a treasure that we have this spring-fed wetland here in Phoenix, Oregon.”

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