Bridge Creek close to getting permit

Mar 14, 2012

Bend Bulletin

Bridge Creek close to getting permit

Forest Service says project not likely to have huge impact

By Nick Grube

The U.S. Forest Service seems poised to let the city of Bend proceed with its controversial $70 million upgrade of the Bridge Creek water system.

On Tuesday, the federal agency released a 235-page study that found the project likely won’t have major impacts on Forest Service lands or the surrounding watershed.

The Forest Service analyzed the city’s proposal to build a new water intake facility at Bridge Creek and a 10-mile-long pipeline that would snake through the agency’s property as well as underneath Skyliners Road.

While the draft environmental assessment found that construction will cause some disruptions, most of the long-term impacts, such as those to wildlife and water flows, will be negligible.

“My feeling is that we’ve done a really good job with the analysis,” said Rod Bonacker, the Forest Service special projects coordinator. “Nothing jumped out at us as a major environmental impact, and that’s what we were looking for with this.”

The city needs a special use permit from the Forest Service before it can begin work on the intake facility and the pipeline. Some of that work is scheduled to begin this year, probably in late summer or early fall.

Even though the Forest Service determined it likely will give the city such a permit, the municipality is still required to follow certain directives.

For example, the intake facility was built in 1926 and is eligible to be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. Since the plan is to replace this building, the Forest Service is requiring the city to document all aspects of the structure so thoroughly that someone could essentially rebuild it by examining the records.

The city’s new intake facility must also be built to what the report calls “rustic-style Cascadian design,” meaning it should have a natural stone veneer and roof girders made of wood or steel that is painted “in a wood-toned color.”

An additional requirement will force the city to monitor water flows and fish populations in Tumalo Creek, something that Bonacker said will be coordinated with the Forest Service.

Bend City Manager Eric King said he hopes information from the Forest Service’s environmental assessment will help the city improve water flows on Tumalo Creek. And in an email he pointed to a resolution the City Council passed last week that will form a committee to look for ways to do just that.

That resolution also aims to delay about half the cost of the $70 million Bridge Creek project to lessen the impact on ratepayers.

“I am pleased that the Forest Service has found no significant impact in the rebuilding of the intake facility and main transmission line which helps preserve half of the City’s water supply,” King wrote.

“We are aware of the public concern regarding flows on Tumalo Creek, and hope that the analysis completed by the Forest Service can alleviate those concerns. We look forward to working with the Forest Service, as well as other interested parties and agencies, to gather important data to help guide future improvements to flow on Tumalo Creek.”

But what’s likely to pique the interest of those who oppose the project is what’s not in the assessment. The Forest Service only compared the city’s proposed project to the alternative of doing nothing, and continuing to use the system as is until it fails.

“We didn’t analyze at all an alternative that would have required the city to use all groundwater,” Bonacker said. “That’s not in our purview, and we don’t have any say in that decision.”

The Forest Service also didn’t study another option critics have suggested lately, which is to consider a much shorter pipe that would draw water from Tumalo Creek near the city’s Outback reservoir and treatment facility off Skyliners Road. They say this could save money on the pipeline as well as leave more water in a stretch of creek.

The Forest Service, on the other hand, didn’t consider such an option feasible, explaining in the draft study that there are too many complications with issues including construction and water rights.

But Central Oregon Landwatch Executive Director Paul Dewey said the federal agency relied too heavily on information from the city and its consultants in this determination. There are several cases where the environmental assessment cites information that comes from consultants the city paid to do work on the project.

Some of these citations come from an oft-criticized study performed by HDR Engineering Inc. that compared the current project to an all-groundwater system. At the time of that comparison, the firm had more than $10 million to gain from the city if it were hired to continue with the project.

“Frankly, it looks like it was written by the city and HDR rather than the Forest Service,” Dewey said. “This is concerning because we were really looking forward to an independent assessment of the impacts.”

Other city consultants cited in the study include water rights attorney Rick Glick of Davis Wright Tremaine and the engineering firm Brown and Caldwell, which performed an analysis on several alternatives, including the current proposal.

Bonacker said it’s not uncommon for the Forest Service to rely on such data, especially if it’s the best information available. There’s a 30-day period for the public to weigh in on the draft environmental assessment; he said that if anyone has better information, now is the time to submit it. After that, a final decision will be issued, although that can be appealed and then taken to federal court.

“I get that there’s a lot of controversy about this and that there are people who are not happy with the city’s decisions,” Bonacker said. “I hope that they wouldn’t take that out on us, but I realize this is the big opportunity to really weigh in and judge the city’s work.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2160,

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