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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bull Run cabins: the official version

David Shaff, the director of the Portland water bureau, has sent us a response to our posts of Saturday and yesterday regarding the city's renovation of a house and a cabin on the site of the Bull Run reservoir. Here it is, in relevant part:

As you noted in your two posts on the subject, there are two sites in the watershed that have historic structures.

There are three log cabins at Bull Run Lake that were built in the early days of the Water Bureau -- around 1917 when the Water Bureau built a small dam at the outlet of Bull Run Lake. One of the cabins, the most prominent one that overlooks the lake, was badly damaged when a tree fell on it during a winter storm before I came to the bureau in 2005. We received Council authorization to restore that cabin in 2007/08.

Here is a picture of the cabin with the tree on it and a picture of the cabin before the restoration work began:

Also included are a couple of pictures of the work in progress and the final product (although the chimney has still not been restored). The other two cabins continue to slowly deteriorate. We have no plans to restore them at this time.

The other site is at dam 1. There are two "cottages” remaining out of the several structures that were built to house the workers who constructed the dam in the early 20's. The one that you have in your first post is called Bear Creek House and was where the supervising project engineer lived during construction of the dam. The second one is frequently called Little Bear Creek House or Bear Creek House No. 2 and is about 50 feet away from Bear Creek House. Bear Creek House is used as a stopping point for our tours and education program and is occasionally used for meetings. Little Bear Creek is in poor condition and isn’t in use.

During the time I have been Administrator, the interior of Bear Creek has been painted and a retired bureau carpenter built new kitchen cabinets and tiled the kitchen countertop. It has a stove and refrigerator. The bathroom sink and toilet were replaced and the floor was re-tiled (there is no tub or shower). He also rebuilt the fireplace hearth. One of the two bedrooms contains a desk, phone and some historic wooden distribution pipes. The other contains a conference table and chairs. We purchased two sofas and a coffee and end tables and some lamps for the living room. The art consists of pictures taken in the watershed by employees over the years. Our carpenter also replaced the porch decking and we constructed a short concrete ramp that is ADA compliant to enable wheelchair access into the house. A more complete description of the work performed (and the history of the two houses) can be found in the documents Andrew included in his comment on your first post.

I don’t know if your original reader was mistaken or if the person s/he was speaking to misspoke, but overnight stays are not allowed in either Bear Creek House or the cabins (or anywhere else inside the watershed for that matter). While Bear Creek is available for use as a meeting space, it isn’t very practical due to the distance from town, its small size and the logistics/restrictions on access to the watershed. Also, as you can see from this picture, it isn’t very accessible sometimes.
Let me know if you have any questions. My offer to take you up there still stands, by the way.

Comments (34)

First off, any surface water in town you'll get hit with a 150-foot setback depending on where you want to build.

So we are going to put 3 cabins with probably septic fields next to Bull Run? And we spend how much studying LT2?

Just another toy for Randy and his puppets.

I'd love to hear why Mr Shaff thinks we need to bump water rates 50% in 3 years without doing anything.

When asking about the 50% water hike, could you ask him where the extra garbage revenue is going?

Steve-- while looking for information on the cabins/houses, I came across the a couple of documents for the variance that gives the answer as three portable toliets, two of which currently or will be located beyond 200ft, and one contained holding tank.

Why is there any money spent on something that appears to be entirely unneeded?

It seems to me if there was any money spent it would be to remove all of them, return the location to a natural state and thereby ending all future cost of maintaining them.

"gives the answer as three portable toliets"

Fine, try that next to a stream in Portland and see how far it gets you with BDS. They will not allow you to put permanent improvements next to surface water in town.

This all begs the question of why we need 3 meeting rooms up there anyways. You can't twll me with their budget they can't afford meeting rooms in Portland.

"Restoration work"???? Looks like a total rebuild to me!
What a total waste of money! And the water ratepayers foot the bill.
Randy and his gang of thieves should pay the bill and pay for the legal bills too!

But does it have free wi-fi?

And I hope those logs were taken from a sustainable source.

The question here is not the restoration work. Bull Run truly is a testament to forward looking leaders in Portland who purchased the land and reservoir a century ago. I have no problem with modest renovations, which is what this sounds like. I don't even have problems with guided tours--our water system is the envy of every guest I have in the City.

The real question is why wasn't Schaff's the first response that came to the blog, rather than the two posts from Cmmr. Leonard, which needlessly obfuscated the issue and inflamed the intrepid blogger? That was pretty poorly handled public relations, but clearly Jack gets under his skin.

I wish there were more readers here like Paul G. Randy's comments on this topic (well, really, all his comments in any forum and on any topic) were pathetic, because as an elected official he needs to set aside his ego and intelligently respond to concerns raised by his constituents. But the sad fact of the matter is that he was spot-on in his characterization of the vitriol that goes on in the comments section of this blog.

This post notwithstanding, I long ago gave up posting comments here because of the general lack of constructive dialogue. The typical dynamic here is that Jack makes a point that is largely or entirely accurate (or at the very least defensible), and then folks take that point way, way past the boundaries of reason. I honestly agree with most of the criticism here of the City of Portland and associated cabals, but people need to realize that just like a broken clock, Sam Adams and Randy Leonard can--every one and a while--be on the right side of an issue. Just because Portland implements a policy doesn't automatically make it wrong.

I get a laugh that it took over 30 pages of documentation to respond to Oregon Health Authority inquiries (Andrew's post) about placement of the outhouses and walking around the dam.

And then the graphs, equation interpretations are outstanding. I'm sure any of us that wanted to place an outhouse near our house for our hired landscape crew couldn't even begin to provide this kind of information, or be able to afford it. And then the permit wouldn't be granted.

Dear "name withheld"

Think of this blog as some good buddies having a few in a bar. From time to time voices are raised and bluster trumps reason.

I am not afraid to wade into the deep- what you consider boundaries are all in your mind- and your loss.

When the ruling classes, elected or otherwise, do not listen to the masses, a "reign of terror" usually happens eventually.
Constructive dialogue becomes difficult to impossible because the public's trust has been violated too often.
If some of us (myself included) post comments "beyond reason" it is because we are frustrated, angry, and have given up hope of beIng able to have a constructive discussion.

But the sad fact of the matter is that he was spot-on in his characterization of the vitriol that goes on in the comments section of this blog.

Why do you suppose this is?
Some of those who comment on here have been watchdogs for years and can no longer tolerate the downward spiral of this city.

The water issue, what have the Mayor and Leonard done that has been right on this issue?
The list is far longer on what they haven't done for the people here.

My sense of it is that as long as some are doing OK financially in this city, they don't perceive this as being critical. Others are upset with the high water rates and then continuing to spiral out of sight. This hurts the businesses and jobs as well.

The other matter is one of public health. If you think a corporate designed water system is better than our sustainable Bull Run System we have had for 100 years, then we are on opposite sides. I would suggest that you learn about the value of the system we have and of good drinking water.

Where is constructive dialogue allowed about the water that we all drink? A two minute testifying period in council? A silence around the city in most press about something so very important? Way too much back room dealing and plans from long ago leading up to a grand plan that has essentially left the public out. This is unacceptable. Why so much debt in our PWB? Why continue to debt swamp us? Will we lose our water rights in the process to privatization? This is happening all over the world and within our country. Stockton, CA fought for six long years to get their water rights back, we need to fight to keep them and quite frankly why should we the people have to fight to save our water? It is because our council won't. They are supposed to be good stewards of our water and they haven't been. It is disgusting that they are laying down on this matter, why?

Portland Native, I think everybody recognizes the frustration. But characterizing something as a "total waste of money" is what really irks. It may be a waste, but a "total" waste may not be right. Bull Run is not ONLY our water system, it's also a historical landmark. Preserving those cabins is, to some people (and that's all it takes, some people, in a democracy - not a true majority) an important nod to preserving the memory of the people that built that history.

The comments here often go over the top. Some comments said rates went up 50% for "nothing." Well, the Big Pipe was a big project on the sewer side. The feds dropped a couple potential bombs on the treatment docket. The supply system is ancient and needing constant replacement that does nothing "visible" other than disrupt traffic. Waste and mission creep (even illegal, lawsuit-worthy creep like the Water Bureau) is true, but hyperbole like 50% rate increase for nothing just gets so tiresome.

Everybody has a right to be angry and support the things they believe in, but we who support things cut our own throats politically when we get too worked up. I know I plead guilty. It took me a while to get used to the vibe, but the "pub regulars" description is apt, and I no longer think it's a bad thing. Quite the contrary. Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bog's Blog Comments Section.

"The real question is why wasn't Schaff's the first response that came to the blog, rather than the two posts from Cmmr. Leonard, which needlessly obfuscated the issue and inflamed the intrepid blogger?" Here's an inflammatory suggestion - maybe Schaff was too busy actually doing the job he was paid to do to waste time responding to a blog that will damn him if his does or damn him if he doesn't simply by virtue of the fact that he is a public employee. I will bet even money that if he had responded, even as rationally and carefully as he did, with the expedience with which Leonard did, he would have had his head shot off for allegedly wasting our money.

When reading this blog, it's sometimes instructive to read what supporters of the pot have to say about the kettle. Sometimes it's just entertaining to eavesdrop on two guys having a beer.

"I don't even have problems with guided tours--our water system is the envy of every guest I have in the City."

I don't know if I'd say "our".

You do realize that Bull Run is locked and you need to be with or be a PWB employee to get access.

It makes you wonder whose benefit it is for.

July, 2011:
Randy Leonard defends spending nearly $4 million in Water Bureau ratepayer dollars to rebuild a headquarters for the Rose Festival, construct a model home promoting water conservation, improve a park in Clackamas County and operate new public restrooms.

Never mind that a blistering city audit explicitly said two of the projects had nothing to do with providing drinking water to 900,000 Portlanders and suburban customers. Or that ratepayers are angry.

"Everything that you're asking me about, I would do again," Leonard said in a recent interview. "And if given the opportunity, will do again. Happily."

"This is ratepayer money," said Tom Fahey, a Water Users member and an executive at Siltronic Corp., Portland's largest water consumer. "They had the ability to lower their labor costs. And they didn't do it."

Water rates are projected to rise 85% over the next five years

Four days ago:

Siltronic announced the layoff of nearly half the Portland workforce of 750. The official story is that the demand for 150 mm. wafers is low. That's true enough, as far as it goes. But they could upscale to 300mm., yet they chose not to do it. Why?

Siltronic built their first plant outside Germany here in Portland in 1979, and primarily for one reason: plentiful, pure water at inexpensive rates. Under Randy, rates have skyrocketed, and are now ranked between third and fifth-highest in the nation, depending upon whose figures you use.

The Water Bureau runs one of the country's simplest systems. It injects the water with chlorine and ammonia near its Bull Run reservoir near Mount Hood, then uses gravity to pipe it 30 miles into town.

Thank God Randy wasn't allowed near a complex system!

Thanks to Mr Schaff for shedding some facts on the rhetoric. Given the PR associated with the filing of this lawsuit, I sure hope there's more substance to its other allegations. Just like a movie that is preceded by a blitzkrieg of trailers, I'm always suspicious of lawsuits that start with such a high public profile. Whether we like the way the Water Bureau has been run is a much different question than whether its funds have been spent illegally. Courts are usually reluctant to second guess another branch of government, or its elected officials, where there is no evidence of personal gain. It's not its common role in the political process. They usually leave it to the electorate to vote the bums out.

The lawsuit will win, and it will produce needed reforms. The city has already as much as admitted to its bondholders that several of the claims have merit. Judge Litzenberger ruled against the city on water bonding irregularities a few years back.

Portland's government is badly broken, and the current City Council is proof that the voters will do nothing of the kind. Portland needs a good government league to bring many more lawsuits of this kind.

I don't understand why the city is undertaking guided tours to the extent that it has purchased what looks like a pretty swanky, gas-guzzling vehicle and is charging inadequate admission.

The Bull Run watershed has always been closed to the public, only entered for maintenance.

I might understand officials going out there occasionally in a van or a city or county vehicle but I don't understand why the Water Dept. seems now to consider it a tourist attraction.

PS - I like the cabin renovation idea but then I've always been sorry that so many of the NW fire lookouts were razed. Those that are left are bringing in revenue through a rental program administered in the various counties where they reside. I DO NOT recommend renting out the cabins on the Bull Run, even for meetings.

These cabins are historic. They're the only structures we have that Randy and Sam haven't tried to turn into condos.

"These cabins are historic. They're the only structures we have that Randy and Sam haven't tried to turn into condos."

Bill, why do you think they had to get them remolded/rebuilt ?

As to the Samdy cheerleader..
it doesn't matter if those two clowns are like a broken clock, the fact remains is the clock is still wrong man MANY more times than it is right.

I will stand by my earlier comment that this so called restoration of these log cabins and the other house, was a total waste of ratepayers money. This project did not improve water quality, make water distribution more efficient nor did it do anything to lower the cost to the users. In fact it seems to have had the opposite effect.
Having a cute little old house as a rest stop for the tour bus does not seem like a best use of ratepayer money. And the tour bus doesn't seem like a good use of funds either.
Take a picture and donate it to the Oregon Historical Society along with the old wooden pipes.

I see some merit in "name withheld"'s post. But I wonder why if its critical for the water bureau to have these PR trips to Bull Run, why do they need this fancy bus? CoP has several 9 and 12 passenger vans in their motor pool. Or why not have the interested groups or small parties furnish their own transportation? That is the kind of thinking and waste that has people disturbed.

Did the visiting geological group that generated many of the posted pictures have any substance to providing good water service to Portland? I'm not knocking the group, but what is government doing in the PR business to the extent they are?

Is that demeaning, or not a "constructive dialogue", name withheld?

Though there may be valid nits to pick about the costs of vans versus a bus, I can't believe so many people are taking the position that there is NO VALUE in the government providing tours for people who want to see where their water comes from.

Personally, I think the City has a responsibility to allow its citizens (at least some limited) access to the system from which Portland's water emerges. Considering said system is so unique and complex, I can see there being demand from scientific groups and other municipalities as well.

Well, then, you go ahead and form yourself a private society that will raise private money for the tourism program.

No thanks. I'm not advocating for a tourism program. I'm advocating for citizens of Portland and drinkers of Bull Run water being able to 1) see where there water comes from; and 2) maybe learn something about it in the process. Its transparency and education about public drinking water. It should not be left to private societies. If you think the marginal cost of accommodating scientists, other municipalities and "tourists" is too high? Fine, exclude them.

But the "tourists" do not need to have a full time, $110,000 bus, paid for by the water bureau to take a ride to Bull Run! There are vehicles available for rent for vastly less money!

And the "scientists" don't need "restored" log cabins to look at either!

5th Generation, The Geological Society of Oregon Country (GSOC) that generated several of the photos is really not a "scientific group". Their membership has no educational requirements, just those that may be interested in geology, and who qualifies that requirement? And look at their field trips on their website, most of those trips are done with their own transportation. But I get your point, but that access should be on the interested parties dime, even if it is scientific, engineering interest, ecological, or whatever.

lw - I agree. Private groups should be arranging and paying their own way.

Regarding the refurbishing of cabins, it's sad more people don't know or care about the history of Bull Run. Those cabins are tangible pieces of what little remains of a long and interesting history involving city leaders, governors and even Teddy Roosevelt.

I seem to recall some outcry here at the destruction of less historic residential buildings within city limits.

It may have been even more costly (if not impossible due to underlying land use regs) to replace these cabins if they were allowed to deteriorate further.

Don't lose sight of the big picture. Its not a matter of raising private funds to support tours. And it's not a matter of requiring access to the Bull Run to learn about our wonderful drinking water. The more people in the Bull Run, the greater the risk to our source. It's that simple.

Why is the Bull Run a completely unique and most healthy source of water? It's because of the experience and wisdom of past generations who learned the importance of keeping people OUT to protect our water supply.

People unknowingly bring communicable diseases IN to the watershed. That disease can be transmitted to us. That's why federal legislation, the BULL RUN TRESPASS ACT, was promoted by Portlanders over 100 years ago and signed into law in 1904.

People unknowingly bring in pathogens, ones that that they knew about in the 1800's, and ones that we know about now, like cryptosporidium. Today, a finding of only a few oocysts can force otherwise unnecessary construction of treatment plant, which means more road expansion, more logging, more dangerous pollutants (including mercury) brought into the treatment process, etc. What a disaster.

People arrive in vehicles. They will bring non-native flora and fauna into the watershed, despite good intentions. Then we have to pay to bring more people and vehicles in to try to get rid of the invasive species. Invasive plants threaten Bull Run's rare species that may be found no where else on earth.

This is why it is so distressing that the current tour program is now on steroids. More human disturbance is bad for the watershed and dramatically increases risk to our water. Candidates for City Council should state their opposition to the scope of this risky, ramped up program.

In this day and age, we have the ability to "see" the watershed through other means and to educate the public about our fantastic source of water at every opportunity. In fact there are several videos available - just ask the Portland Water Bureau. For those who want an on-the-ground experience, the nearby Salmon River watershed beautifully demonstrates the many attributes of a forested watershed without increasing the risk to our precious Bull Run watershed.


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Jack Walker - The Extraordinary Rendition of Vincent Dellamaria
Colum McCann - Let the Great World Spin
Niccolò Machiavelli - The Prince
Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird
Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus - The Nanny Diaries
Brian Selznick - The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Sharon Creech - Walk Two Moons
Keith Richards - Life
F. Sionil Jose - Dusk
Natalie Babbitt - Tuck Everlasting
Justin Halpern - S#*t My Dad Says
Mark Herrmann - The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law
Barry Glassner - The Gospel of Food
Phil Stanford - The Peyton-Allan Files
Jesse Katz - The Opposite Field
Evelyn Waugh - Brideshead Revisited
J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
David Sedaris - Holidays on Ice
Donald Miller - A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
Mitch Albom - Have a Little Faith
C.S. Lewis - The Magician's Nephew
F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby
William Shakespeare - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Ivan Doig - Bucking the Sun
Penda Diakité - I Lost My Tooth in Africa
Grace Lin - The Year of the Rat
Oscar Hijuelos - Mr. Ives' Christmas
Madeline L'Engle - A Wrinkle in Time
Steven Hart - The Last Three Miles
David Sedaris - Me Talk Pretty One Day
Karen Armstrong - The Spiral Staircase
Charles Larson - The Portland Murders
Adrian Wojnarowski - The Miracle of St. Anthony
William H. Colby - Long Goodbye
Steven D. Stark - Meet the Beatles
Phil Stanford - Portland Confidential
Rick Moody - Garden State
Jonathan Schwartz - All in Good Time
David Sedaris - Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Anthony Holden - Big Deal
Robert J. Spitzer - The Spirit of Leadership
James McManus - Positively Fifth Street
Jeff Noon - Vurt

Road Work

Miles run year to date: 5
At this date last year: 3
Total run in 2017: 113
In 2016: 155
In 2015: 271
In 2014: 401
In 2013: 257
In 2012: 129
In 2011: 113
In 2010: 125
In 2009: 67
In 2008: 28
In 2007: 113
In 2006: 100
In 2005: 149
In 2004: 204
In 2003: 269

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