Judge won't block Bridge Creek project

February 15, 2014
Judge won't block Bridge Creek project

Bend officials say they’re ready to move ahead with pipeline work

By Elon Glucklich / @EGlucklich

A federal judge Friday rejected an attempt by Central Oregon LandWatch to halt the city of Bend’s Bridge Creek municipal water project.

City officials said they’re ready to move ahead with the first phase of the $24 million project early next week.

LandWatch filed an injunction after the U.S. Forest Service granted the city a permit in November, arguing the project’s environmental impacts weren’t given enough consideration.

But after a one-hour conference call with attorneys for the city, the Forest Service and LandWatch, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken needed just one more hour to deny LandWatch’s injunction Friday afternoon.

The permit gives the city a green light to start installing 10 miles of pipeline under Skyliners Road, but doesn’t cover the large intake facility planned near Bend’s watershed at Bridge Creek.

In a brief ruling, Aiken said LandWatch’s arguments against the pipeline work failed “to establish the likelihood of irreparable harm.” LandWatch attorneys had argued the pipeline can’t be separated from the project as a whole.

Aiken’s quick ruling caught some Bend officials off guard.

She said earlier that a ruling would come by Monday.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” City Manager Eric King said Friday night. “This gives us the signal to proceed with construction on the project.”

Early next week, the city will reach out to contractors, who are likely a few weeks out from getting to the site to start work, King said.

LandWatch Executive Director Paul Dewey and an attorney representing the nonprofit did not immediately return calls for comment Friday evening.

It’s uncertain whether the group plans to appeal the ruling, and how a possible appeal might affect the city’s timeline. King said the pipe installation is a roughly one-year process.

City officials have been planning for years to replace two aging pipes, spanning from the watershed at Bridge Creek to the Outback water storage facility near Tumalo Creek, with a new single pipe. They also want to build a new water intake facility at Bridge Creek.

LandWatch has repeatedly sought to block the project in court, arguing Forest Service analyses haven’t taken into account the wide-ranging impacts of increased water flow out of the watershed on native fish and nearby wetlands.

Aiken said during the conference call she’d hoped the two sides could settle their disagreements on the project’s impacts out of court.

But attorneys for both sides told her they made little to no progress during discussions this week.

In Aiken’s order denying the injunction, she ordered the two sides to continue settlement negotiations.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, eglucklich@bendbulletin.com

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