September 27, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Bend courted brewers on water
Sep 27, 2011
Bend courted brewers on water
Support sought for $68.2M overhaul; none given so farBy Nick Grube / The Bulletin
Published: September 27. 2011 4:00AM PST
Earlier this month the city of Bend asked local brewers, including Deschutes, Boneyard and 10 Barrel, to support the city’s controversial $68.2 million overhaul of its Bridge Creek water system.
In a Sept. 2 e-mail, Bend Business Advocate Jon Skidmore asked the brewers to sign a letter stating that moving ahead with the water project was the responsible thing to do for Bend’s economic future. The letter also claims that what makes the area’s local beer “world class” is the “world class source of water.”
Written from the perspective of the brewers, the letter also argues that it’s easier to market beer by showing that it comes from “an actual pristine water source” like Bridge Creek rather than from wells, which provide the balance of Bend’s water.
But as of Monday, not a single brewery had signed the letter, and some, including the largest beer maker around, have no intention of doing so.
“I think it’s odd that they would come to this group of businesses in this way,” Deschutes Brewery President Gary Fish said. “With that being said, they’re going to do what they’re going to do regardless, and I learned that over and over and over again.”
Bend city councilors voted 6-1 in November to approve the project.
They also have agreed to spend millions of dollars to continue pushing ahead, most recently with the purchase of 1,500 tons of steel that will be part of a 10-mile-long pipeline.
Like the residents who get municipal water, local business owners are going to see large spikes in their monthly bills as a result of the city’s Bridge Creek project. For a company like Deschutes Brewery, which is one of the largest water users in the city, the rate increases will be very costly.
What’s more, brewers and residents are seeing hefty increases in their sewer bills because the city has been upgrading its wastewater system. The city plans to spend nearly $100 million on sewer improvements over the next five years.
While the wastewater treatment system needs more capacity, Fish is skeptical about the benefits of the costly Bridge Creek project. The claim that surface water is better for brewers than groundwater is somewhat moot, he said, because the water still needs to be treated and pH balanced.
“I’m not sure that I support this contention that it’s this or doomsday,” Fish said. “I just don’t believe it, and I don’t think the science supports it either.”
He suspects the city solicited brewers’ support in reaction to a petition drive by opponents of the project, who claim, among other things, that it’s much more expensive and environmentally harmful than switching to all groundwater.
Fish called this solicitation part of a “really strange behavior pattern” for a municipal government, and he’s not alone in that assessment.
Even one of the smallest beer operations in Bend, Below Grade Brewing, was contacted by the city. That company brews small batches of beer that it then sells at local farmers markets.
“It felt funny, and that’s the best way I can describe it,” said Below Grade owner Dean Wise. “It seemed odd to me that there was this internal promotion of a city project.”
City Manager Eric King is the one who decided to ask local brewers for their support. He said the city wanted to meet with them two years ago to discuss the impending infrastructure projects, but didn’t have the staff time to do so until hiring Jon Skidmore as the business advocate.
The idea for this particular letter came from an August meeting in which city officials described all the upcoming infrastructure projects that were in the works.
“Our perspective is that this is an industry here in Bend, so we wanted them to weigh in on this project,” King said. “They rely on having working infrastructure for them to do business. They need clean water, and they need to discharge that water.”
The city’s consultant on the project, HDR Engineering, Inc., hired a public relations firm to write the support letter, which the city then refined. HDR has an engineering contract with the city that’s worth more than $12 million.
Skidmore said he plans to meet with some of the local brewers to discuss the city’s support letter. He said there’s still interest from some brewers to sign on to it, though he declined to say from whom.
If no one signs the letter, he doesn’t think it should be considered a referendum on the project. Neither does King.
“I really see this as the city’s attempt to gauge the interest of the brewing industry,” Skidmore said. “Just like any public project, some folks are going to support it and some are going to oppose it.”
Nick Grube can be reached at 541-633-2160 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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