This article was published on: 04/26/14 12:00 AM
Pipeline construction continues west of Bend
By Hillary Borrud
A legal challenge to Bend’s $24 million water supply project appears to be headed to trial, after months of settlement talks between the city, U.S. Forest Service and opponents of the project failed to produce a deal.
City Councilor Sally Russell said Thursday that it was time to proceed with the case, because the city cannot proceed with parts of the project until a federal judge issues a decision. Six of the seven city councilors traveled to U.S. District Court in Eugene Tuesday for a settlement conference with the two groups suing to stop the water project.
“The longer we extend the settlement talks without going into the briefing process, it costs everyone time and money,” Russell said, citing existing contracts with companies to build the water project. “And so at some point, it makes sense to just begin to condense those processes.”
Central Oregon LandWatch and WaterWatch of Oregon filed the lawsuit in November after the Forest Service issued a permit to the city of Bend for the water project. The groups say the Forest Service did not adequately consider the impact of the city project on fish and wetlands.
However, Russell said she believes it is still possible to settle the case. “I think there is room to find middle ground in this conversation,” Russell said. “I know it’s in the ratepayers’ interest and everyone’s interest to find that middle ground.”
Lawyers are working on a schedule for the case to proceed. The next step will be for all parties to submit legal briefs to U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken.
Meanwhile, contractors working for the city have built more than half a mile of the new 10-mile pipeline to bring drinking water from Bridge Creek and Tumalo Creek to Bend’s water treatment facility. LandWatch and WaterWatch had asked Aiken to halt all work until she eventually issues a final decision on the case. But in February, Aiken allowed the pipeline to proceed and wrote in an order that “plaintiffs fail to establish the likelihood of irreparable harm, the likelihood of success on the merits, that the balance of hardships tips in their favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest …”
Although Aiken allowed pipeline installation alongside Skyliners Road to proceed, there are other parts of the project which the city cannot build until there is a final decision on the lawsuit. This includes the remainder of the pipeline and installation of new intake equipment that will allow the city to regulate the amount of water it takes.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendants will discuss on Monday a potential schedule to submit briefs in the case, City Attorney Mary Winters wrote in an email Thursday. Plaintiffs’ attorney Ralph Bloemers and LandWatch Executive Director Paul Dewey did not return calls for comment.
City project manager Heidi Lansdowne said contractors are currently installing 200 to 300 feet of water pipeline under Skyliners Road every day. Once the contractors install a mile of pipeline, they will pave over that side of the road; they will continue this process throughout the project, Lansdowne said.
“We’re maybe just a little bit behind schedule, but overall we’re on target,” Lansdowne said. The goal is to finish this section of the pipeline by March 2015, but weather initially slowed work on the project. “When we started, we were in a real major snow melt period” and water flooded into the trench built for the pipeline, Lansdowne said. Contractors had to pump water out of the trench before installing the pipe.
“They’re getting in the rhythm, and their production now is totally going with the production rates they’d expected to see for the overall job,” Lansdowne said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7829, firstname.lastname@example.org