Bridge Creek close to getting permit

March 14, 2012
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 Bendproceed with its controversial $70 million upgrade of the Bridge Creekwater system.

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

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

While thedraft environmental assessment found that construction will cause somedisruptions, most of the long-term impacts, such as those to wildlifeand water flows, will be negligible.

“My feeling is that we’vedone a really good job with the analysis,” said Rod Bonacker, the ForestService special projects coordinator. “Nothing jumped out at us as amajor environmental impact, and that’s what we were looking for withthis.”

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

Even though the Forest Servicedetermined it likely will give the city such a permit, the municipalityis still required to follow certain directives.

For example, theintake facility was built in 1926 and is eligible to be nominated to theNational Register of Historic Places. Since the plan is to replace thisbuilding, the Forest Service is requiring the city to document allaspects of the structure so thoroughly that someone could essentiallyrebuild it by examining the records.

The city’s new intakefacility must also be built to what the report calls “rustic-styleCascadian design,” meaning it should have a natural stone veneer androof girders made of wood or steel that is painted “in a wood-tonedcolor.”

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

BendCity Manager Eric King said he hopes information from the ForestService’s environmental assessment will help the city improve waterflows on Tumalo Creek. And in an email he pointed to a resolution theCity Council passed last week that will form a committee to look forways to do just that.

That resolution also aims to delay abouthalf the cost of the $70 million Bridge Creek project to lessen theimpact on ratepayers.

“I am pleased that the Forest Service hasfound no significant impact in the rebuilding of the intake facility andmain transmission line which helps preserve half of the City’s watersupply,” King wrote.

“We are aware of the public concernregarding flows on Tumalo Creek, and hope that the analysis completed bythe Forest Service can alleviate those concerns. We look forward toworking with the Forest Service, as well as other interested parties andagencies, to gather important data to help guide future improvements toflow on Tumalo Creek.”

But what’s likely to pique the interestof those who oppose the project is what’s not in the assessment. TheForest Service only compared the city’s proposed project to thealternative of doing nothing, and continuing to use the system as isuntil it fails.

“We didn’t analyze at all an alternative thatwould 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.”

TheForest Service also didn’t study another option critics have suggestedlately, which is to consider a much shorter pipe that would draw waterfrom Tumalo Creek near the city’s Outback reservoir and treatmentfacility off Skyliners Road. They say this could save money on thepipeline as well as leave more water in a stretch of creek.

TheForest Service, on the other hand, didn’t consider such an optionfeasible, explaining in the draft study that there are too manycomplications with issues including construction and water rights.

ButCentral Oregon Landwatch Executive Director Paul Dewey said the federalagency relied too heavily on information from the city and itsconsultants in this determination. There are several cases where theenvironmental assessment cites information that comes from consultantsthe city paid to do work on the project.

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

“Frankly, itlooks like it was written by the city and HDR rather than the ForestService,” Dewey said. “This is concerning because we were really lookingforward to an independent assessment of the impacts.”

Other cityconsultants cited in the study include water rights attorney Rick Glickof Davis Wright Tremaine and the engineering firm Brown and Caldwell,which performed an analysis on several alternatives, including thecurrent proposal.

Bonacker said it’s not uncommon for the ForestService to rely on such data, especially if it’s the best informationavailable. There’s a 30-day period for the public to weigh in on thedraft environmental assessment; he said that if anyone has betterinformation, now is the time to submit it. After that, a final decisionwill be issued, although that can be appealed and then taken to federalcourt.

“I get that there’s a lot of controversy about this andthat 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 Irealize this is the big opportunity to really weigh in and judge thecity’s work.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2160,

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An aerial view of a body of water.