November 11, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Ex-mayors join forces with foes of Bend water project
Nov 21, 2011
Ex-mayors join forces with foes of Bend water projectBy Nick Grube / The Bulletin
Published: November 11. 2011 4:00AM PST
Standing next to a bathroom sink in the parking lot of Bend City Hall on Thursday, seven former mayors unfurled a list of 1,000 people who signed a petition opposing the $68.2 million reconstruction of the Bridge Creek water system.
The showing was part of a campaign to persuade city leaders to stop the project, and instead look at what opponents believe are cheaper and more environmentally sound alternatives that don’t rely on water that would otherwise pour into Tumalo Creek and the Lower Deschutes River.
A suggested alternative is a switch to all groundwater, which today provides about half the city’s annual supply and is the main source of water in the summer, when demand is highest.
“We really need to reconsider what is going on,” said Ruth Burleigh, who was Bend’s mayor in 1978 and 1981. “We’re simply asking the city to do that.”
Some former mayors expressed concern with the studies city officials used when deciding to rebuild the Bridge Creek water system.
One was performed by HDR Engineering Inc., which at the time had a vested interest in the Bridge Creek project because it could have its contract increased from $1.66 million to more than $12 million should the city stay the course.
There was also concern that the price tag — which includes replacing a 10-mile-long pipeline, building a high-tech water treatment facility and installing a hydropower generator — is too high.
Customers can expect to see their monthly bills increase by as much as 40 percent over the next several years to help cover the costs of the project.
“I strongly believe the city is going the wrong direction at this point,” said Bruce Abernethy, who was mayor from 2007 through 2008. “I really think it’s time for the council to step back, delay a little bit ... and listen to the citizens of Bend.”
Former Mayors Allan Bruckner, Terry Blackwell, Bob Woodward, Craig Coyner and Oran Teater also attended Thursday’s event. Deidra Cherzan, who headed the city’s budget committee, was present, along with representatives from the business and conservation communities.
While there’s no indication the city will change direction on the Bridge Creek project, the federal government is reviewing a rule that up until now has been a significant driver behind the project and its cost.
To comply with Environmental Protection Agency regulations, the city was required to treat its surface water for cryptosporidium and other potentially dangerous microorganisms by 2012. That requirement, as well as others, is now under scrutiny.
For the city and its ratepayers, this means a potential delay in spending more than $20 million on a water treatment facility.
City Manager Eric King said the city is hiring a lobbyist to help get the rules changed. Even if that happens, he said the City Council will still need to weigh whether a water filtration plant is still a good idea.
“Ultimately, what we want to see happen is a pushback on the deadline for compliance” with the EPA rule, King said. “(But) we have to balance the ability to defer (building the treatment plant) with the other operational benefits treatment will provide.”
The city still faces dangers of a wildfire in the Bridge Creek watershed, which could contaminate the drinking water with ash and other debris.
High turbidity levels, caused by increased water runoff in the spring, for instance, also occasionally cause the city to shut down its Bridge Creek water system.
In both cases, a water filtration system would alleviate those concerns.
Mayor Jeff Eager said he’s hoping for a delay in complying with the federal treatment standards, though he doesn’t think the city should abandon the Bridge Creek project completely.
“The ideal situation is we keep running the system like it is as much as possible,” Eager said. “If we can continue to use that surface water system during an extension period without making a large investment in treatment, then I think that’s the best deal for ratepayers.
“There’s some value in doing the project in phases. That’s the way I see it. It’s an opportunity and something that I think people in the community can get behind.”
— Reporter: 541-633-2160, firstname.lastname@example.org
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