Construction of the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center will provide a bigger, better venue for events like the Umatilla County Fair, but that community benefit has come with a price for the project’s neighbors.
Property owners in the area have banded together to form the Hermiston Airport Road Neighborhood Association to address nuisance complaints and to fight a proposal to change the name of Airport Road which they share with the project.
The city of Hermiston has petitioned Umatilla County to change the name of the road where EOTEC is located in order to mitigate confusion with Airport Way, which also branches off of North Highway 395 but dead ends into the parking lot of the Hermiston Municipal Airport.
City manager Byron Smith said delivery trucks and visitors frequently turn down the wrong road and have to turn around in the airport parking lot and make a left turn back onto Highway 395. People in town may eventually get used to turning onto the right road, he said, but one of the goals of EOTEC is to bring in events that will attract out-of-town visitors too.
“We want to make it easy to find,” he said.
The city chose to pursue a name change for Airport Road instead of Airport Way because they believed the word “airport” should stay with the road actually leading to an airport.
Airport Road residents and business owners, however, said the inconvenience of an address change for them would be significant. Gary Culp of Gary Culp Machine said it would be an “absolute nightmare” for his business.
“I’m 100 percent against it,” he said.
He said Gary Culp Machine and his secondary business Gear Tec, which manufactures and sells tool kits nationally, would be hurt when mail from customers and suppliers was lost in the confusion. There would also be a cost for updating everything from legal paperwork to advertising.
During a public hearing before the county commission on Wednesday, Culp recommended that the city instead change Airport Way to Municipal Airport Way, and commissioner Bill Elfering said that was one option the county could bring to the city before making a final decision.
Others testified they would go through similar expense and inconvenience, and presented the commission with a petition with 34 signatures, representing 17 addresses on Airport Way. The language of the petition also stated that there is “no system of checks and balances” on EOTEC since the project’s partners are the city and county and they are the ones making decisions about things like renaming Airport Road.
Chris Waine, a resident of Airport Road who estimated he lives about half a mile from EOTEC, said the clearest example of the city and county’s conflict of interest on EOTEC is with noise complaints.
He said the pounding bass from weddings, quinceñeras and other parties held at EOTEC on a regular basis can be heard from inside his home. The noise used to go as late as 2 a.m., he claimed, as people technically stopped their events at midnight but played music during “cleanup.” After frequent complaints, the noise usually stops at midnight now, Waine said, but it still disrupts neighbors’ way of life.
“The neighbors don’t feel midnight is a reasonable time,” he said. “We don’t go to bed at midnight. We have to sit there and listen to the bass going boom boom boom while trying to sleep.”
When Waine complained about the noise, however, he was told by the city that since his residence was outside the city limits the city’s noise ordinance did not apply to his complaints. He was then told by the county that since EOTEC is inside the city limits the county had no authority to enforce its noise ordinance on events at EOTEC.
He also said that neighbors end up acting as “hall monitors for EOTEC” as party-goers sometimes park along Airport Road or on private property after events, “getting high or getting busy” in their vehicles.
Richard Misener, another neighbor, echoed complaints about the noise level during events and said he was frustrated by the lack of recourse.
“They think they’re exempt from their own city ordinance,” he said.
Smith acknowledged that neighbors were in a legal “no-man’s land” the way the city and county’s noise ordinances were written, but said the city had tried to be responsive.
“We have been trying to be conscious of that concern and make sure things get shut down at midnight,” Smith said.
He said recently after a neighbor called dispatch to complain about the noise, a Hermiston police officer headed to EOTEC to see if he needed to tell event-goers to quiet down. He said, however, that the officer reported that he could “barely hear” the noise while standing in the parking lot.
Smith said Rotary Club is donating trees to the project and as those trees grow they should help provide a natural buffer for noise.
Planting trees was one of the suggestions made by neighbors, but another suggestion — that events shut down at 10 p.m. — Smith said would be more difficult.
“People don’t want their event to end at 10 and so they would go somewhere else,” he said.
Another complaint from neighbors has been a lack of communication. Mariah Murray said her family came home one day to see their fence and trees along the fenceline gone. She said someone at the county told the family that they had re-surveyed the property and found that the fence was actually on EOTEC property. Later, she said, they discovered more trees had been removed to make way for new power lines running to EOTEC.
“We do not have a problem with change,” she wrote in an email. “It is inevitable. We are willing to coexist. But there has to be communication and they can not just waltz in and take what they want.”
Smith acknowledged that there had been a “miscommunication” with the Murrays and also that the fence could have been restored more quickly than it was.
He said that the city, county and EOTEC board understand that living next to an event center instead of an empty field is a hard adjustment for neighbors. They are striving to improve their communication with neighbors, he said, which is why they went door to door and invited them to a meeting in March to air all of their concerns. He said the board is working to find solutions for concerns voiced at the meeting.
Contact Jade McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.