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Thursday, October 16, 2003

"Portland's greatest public works disaster"

The Oregonian had a couple of pieces in it yesterday about the plan to bury the Mount Tabor and Washington Park Reservoirs. A news story finally addressed head-on the question of how much cheaper it would be to install state-of-the-art security rather than big, dumb underground tanks. And the answer is, a lot cheaper, like 1/7 the cost. I told you so a long time ago. Maybe security isn't the best answer, but doggone it, there should have been more public dialogue about that option before the decision was made to bury.

More interesting, though, was a commentary on the op-ed page which claims that burying the reservoirs will actually harm water quality by encouraging the growth of noxious organisms that thrive in light-free, air-free environments. Amidst all the arguments about aesthetics and security, I hadn't heard that one before.

On another front, the author claims that the cost of the reservoir covering projects will be closer to $1 billion than the $75 million that the city's talking about (up from $65 million less than a year ago). He goes on:

Burial proponents claim that open reservoirs are obsolete and scarce. They don't tell you that millions of people in major cities, including New York and San Francisco, continue to drink unfiltered water from open reservoirs.

Why does this continue? The reason is that these cities rely on the expertise of microbiologists who scientifically evaluate all aspects of water safety, rather than construction engineers whose reflex response is to solve every supposed problem with an expensive structure.

"If this project goes forward," he concludes, "it will become Portland's greatest public works disaster."

The op-ed piece is by Scott Fernandez, identified by the paper as a former member of the City Council's Water Quality Advisory Committee and now on its Public Utility Review Board. The commentary can be found in its entirety here (he said, hopefully).

Comments (3)

Okay Jack so you want cheap. But, what will cheap get us?

How about some crappy looking plastic covers and some really ugly huge, set-back fences. As a frequent Tabor park-goer, I can tell you the only thing going on in the reservoir area currently is some jogging around the reservoirs, people taking in the view from a top the reservoir and some law-breaking dog activity.

But, if we go with your alternative that will all change, no jogging (there won’t be room because of the fences), no view (unless you can look past the plastic sheeting), and well probably still some law-breaking dog activity. And, the cheap alternative will probably only be a temporary alternative, eventually we are going to have to deal with the real issue - the darn tanks and systems are almost 100 years old. Portland was planning to replace them within the next 20 years anyway.

So what do we get if we cover the reservoirs … we get some new usable park space, another potential great Portland park, a water reservoir system that can last for another 100 years, and a water bill that is maybe $1.12 to $1.50 higher.

I know you are all about the cost, but you know who is really waging the Tabor fight don’t you? Hint: First, they complained about keeping the “integrity” of Tabor - so the City actually responds with ponying up some funds to keep the “integrity” of Tabor and actually add some usable park space. Imagine it - a beautiful, usable park that people (people who may have children, children who may make noise) may actually come to, instead of a few random joggers and dog-walkers. Now, they jump-on the cost bandwagon.

Yep you guessed it: its the landowners with property that borders the park - property owners who like the relative quiet of their $.5 to $1M dollar property - property owners who like the tennis courts that hardly anyone uses but are kept-up with City funds - property owners that use the area around the reservoirs as there own private dog-pooping yards.

I'm with you on the aesthetics. But if you believe Saltzman's cost estimates, cooked up by the contractor that the city's been in bed with from the outset of this, you're crazy. And I'm willing to listen to a biologist about the water quality question.

Plus, I think the majority of Portlanders agree that the process on this issue stank to high heaven.

I'm curious about the allegation that burial opponents first simply argued aesthetics. My recollection is that they argued aesthetics and costs together. Maybe the aesthetics issues is the one that got play in the press first? In the long while now that I've been following (to varying degrees) the opposition to the burial, I don't recall ever having seen any sort of switcheroo in strategy or message.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "Portland's greatest public works disaster":

» A Whole Bunch Of Coverage On The Mt. Tabor Reservoirs Lately from The One True b!X's PORTLAND COMMUNIQUE
As one of the first subjects I started covering here when I launched this site, I keep trying to follow the conflict over burying the reservoirs at Mt. Tabor, with varying degrees of success. A... [Read More]

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