PHOTO COURTESY METRO NATURAL AREAS PROGRAM
A couple walks at Canemah Bluff, a Metro natural area near Oregon City. Metro added 22 acres to the property this week.
Reporting from Oregon City
In less than three minutes on a rainy Monday in front of the Clackamas County Courthouse, Metro claimed the missing link in a stretch of bluffs it owns along the Willamette River.
With that short time, plus $124,000 in money from a 2006 bond measure, the regional government locked up a 22-acre parcel in the middle of the Canemah Bluff Natural Area, just east of Oregon City and south of Highway 99E.
As far as anyone in Metro's Natural Areas Program can remember, it was the first time that money from the natural areas bonds has been used to buy land at a foreclosure auction.
Metro had been piecing together its 307 acres along Canemah Bluff for nearly two decades, spending an inflation-adjusted $8.3 million on properties at either end of the bluff. But in the middle was the 22-acre parcel, which Metro officials said they made offers on prior to the foreclosure auction.
Those offers were declined, leaving Metro officials baffled as the property headed toward the 10 a.m. auction on Monday.
Part of the link
Hike around in Canemah Bluff, said Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette, and you'll understand why the regional government has bought about half of a square mile there.
PHOTO COURTESY METRO NATURAL AREAS PROGRAM
Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette, left, walks with a group visiting Canemah Bluff Natural Area near Oregon City.
"I don't think there's any place in the Willamette River basin – and I'm thinking of the whole river basin – that is more spectacular," Collette said. "There are very few places where you can get up on a cliff and see upstream and downstream, and in the spring, very few places that have so much camas lily that the place just turns blue."
The area is also accessible, she said, with a local children's park serving as a gateway from Oregon City's historic Canemah neighborhood. Across the river, West Linn's White Oak Savanna is visible.
Meanwhile, Metro is working to restore the native oak habitat on Canemah Bluff.
"This used to be an oak forest," Collette said. "It filled in with other trees that we've been thinning out for the last couple of years."
Finishing the sale
On Jan. 24, the Metro Council passed a vague resolution authorizing chief operating officer Martha Bennett to purchase an unspecified property near Canemah Bluff for an undisclosed price. The specifics had been discussed in an executive session, but were left private so as not to affect the regional government's bidding on the property.
The regional government has tried to acquire the property for years, and made offers on it as recently as early January. With those offers declined, the property went into Monday's foreclosure auction.
"I know we've tried to purchase this land outright from the owner for many years," Collette said. "We'd prefer to buy from a willing seller," she said of the first-time foreclosure sale.
On Monday, Bennett traveled to Oregon City with Hope Whitney, one of the agency's lead real estate lawyers, and Rick Preston, another attorney, for the foreclosure auction. In the rain, the three stood in front of the county courthouse, looking for the trustee who was going to announce the sale.
Shortly before 10 a.m., they found him – in a black trenchcoat, carrying a briefcase, Mike Gottlieb chatted with the three before beginning the foreclosure sale.
"This is the time and place set for the trustee sale," Gottlieb began. He read another 80 seconds of legalese, interrupted briefly when a tall gentleman with a grey beard tried to hand him a cellphone and said something about bankruptcy. Gottlieb declined to take the phone.
He then started the auction at $123,320.49.
"Does anyone wish to enter a higher bid?" Gottlieb asked.
"$124," Whitney said.
"Any other bids?" Gottlieb asked. There was no response. "There being no other bids, the bid of $124,000 from Metro is declared to be the highest and best bidder."
The sale price of about $5,600 per acre is well below the inflation-adjusted $27,000 per acre Metro paid, on average, for the other 307 acres along Canemah Bluff. It's the least expensive property, per acre, Metro has bought at the site.
In a coffee shop a block away, Whitney handed Gottlieb eight cashiers checks, their sums totaling $124,000.
And with that, the key link in Canemah Bluff was secured.