The Ashland City Council has approved giving water and sewer service to the proposed Siskiyou Safety Rest Area and Welcome Center south of town along Interstate 5, but the Oregon Department of Transportation must meet a number of conditions for the facilities it wants to build.

The Ashland City Council has approved giving water and sewer service to the proposed Siskiyou Safety Rest Area and Welcome Center south of town along Interstate 5, but the Oregon Department of Transportation must meet a number of conditions for the facilities it wants to build.

City water can be used for potable purposes only and not for landscape irrigation, the welcome center portion of the facility must be built, staffing and maintenance must be adequate, Oregon State Police must have a substation there and the approval of city services expires if the facility is not built in four years.

For the project to move forward, Jackson County Commissioners must still approve an exception to a state land use rule meant to restrict using urban water outside cities. Commissioners, who have previously granted some state land use rule exceptions for the project, will take up the issue on May 11.

"I do believe this facility is in the best interests of the city," said Ashland City Councilor Russ Silbiger. "I do believe this facility is in the best interests of the region. I do believe this facility is in the best interests of the state."

He voted along with Councilors Michael Morris and Dennis Slattery, along with Mayor John Stromberg — who cast the tie-breaking vote — to approve city services for the project with the attached conditions.

Councilors Greg Lemhouse, Carol Voisin and David Chapman voted against the move.

Lemhouse, a Medford Police Department police officer, said the fact that councilors felt the need to require an OSP substation there shows they felt the facility could create crime and safety problems.

"It is predictable what's going to happen there," he said.

Ashland residents of the Oak Knoll area said transients and smoking travelers would create fire risks, trucks coming down off the steep Siskiyou Pass could collide with vehicles, the facility would tax already scarce city water supplies and crime would increase.

"There's a reason why vending machines are in rusting cages" all along I-5, said Stephen Stolzer, a resident of Ashland's Oak Knoll neighborhood.

Last summer, 11 homes in the neighborhood were destroyed by a fire that officials believe was started by John David Thiry, a mentally ill homeless man.

Nancy Parker, a neighbor opposed to the rest area and welcome center, said the facility could actually hurt Ashland's economy because many visitors would no longer stop in town to use restrooms and visit businesses.

ODOT has the $5 million needed to build the rest area, but Travel Oregon must secure $2.5 million in funding to build the welcome center. Travel Oregon representatives said they are confident they can get state and federal funding for the welcome center because it will generate more tourism dollars for the state.

Southern Oregon Visitors Association Chief Executive Officer Carolyn Hill said the average visitor spends $158 a day in the Rogue Valley, and finding out about more Ashland and area attractions will convince many to stay longer.

Ashland has been home to a state welcome center near Exit 19 on the north side of town, but visitor numbers are only a fraction of visitor counts from when a more prominent welcome center and rest area were located along I-5 higher on the Siskiyou Summit. That area was closed in the 1990s after a serious collision.

ODOT officials said the new rest area and welcome center will be on flatter ground, the facility will be surrounded by a six foot tall fence topped with barbed wire, OSP troopers out on patrol will have office space at the facility where they can stop and do paperwork, the facility will use less water than that used by four houses and truckers now have their own separate bathroom facilities farther down I-5 at the Port of Entry station.

ODOT is working with the Talent Irrigation District to get water for landscaping, which will be done with native and drought-tolerant plants.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.