This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 5, 2013 7:47 AM. The previous post in this blog was PDC needs new "urban renewal" district to meet payroll. The next post in this blog is Watch the Portland cops get away with murder. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Fresh air: Novick stirs pot on reservoirs

We're not sure that our nickname of "Napoleon" is going to stick to new Portland commissioner Steve Novick. But the news that he's been quietly running the city's water bureau, including its street toilet program, for the last month sure sounds like he met his Water-loo.

Anyway, Novick's now handed the reins over to the mayor, who will be administering all the city bureaus for a while. Maybe the rookie will get it back later this year.

We hope so, because one of the things Novick did in his brief interim tenure was to take another run at the bureaucrats in Salem who are forcing the city to cover its reservoirs. Replacing the reservoirs with underground tanks was a pet project of Novick's predecessor, Admiral Randy, and while the city has gone through the motions of petitioning the state for an exemption or a delay, it's been obvious that City Hall has actually welcomed the excruciatingly expensive and utterly unnecessary cover mandate. The state health authority, no doubt reading the Admiral's clearly legible body language, so far has held the line.

Interestingly, those rulings were made back when Gail Shibley was one of the head honchos at the state health agency. But now she's the chief of staff to the mayor of Portland, who's desperately trying to run a city with a cash flow that's already been frittered away on debt for the Admiral's toys. Perhaps in her new role, Shibley can join Novick in getting the state to back off.

Alternatively, maybe the city's extensive lobbying crew can convince the legislature to intervene and let the city off the hook. Perhaps they could work it in between repealing Measure 5 and preserving the corruption known as "urban renewal."

It was interesting to read the dialogue between Spineless Jelly Fish and water bureau expedition leader David Shaff about why Portland hasn't gotten the same deal that Rochester, N.Y., has managed to get:

"There's nothing that we've learned in the Rochester application that would give us a basis to say, reconsider here in Oregon?" Commissioner Nick Fish asked during the Dec. 12 meeting. "Was there a different argument or a new argument or new evidence that would give us basis to seek reconsideration here?"

"No," Shaff responded. "As a matter of fact, I think we have a better case," he said, noting that Portland received a variance from treating water for cryptosporidium.

Shaff told the City Council that his bureau argued rising costs and broad expenses to state regulators, "just like Rochester did."

"If we were in New York, it's very possible we would have gotten an extension from the state agency. But we didn't," Shaff said in December. "We're in Oregon, and it was Oregon that said no."

What a load. Rochester got an exemption because it really wanted one. The Admiral didn't want one, and everybody knew it. Including Shibley. And including Fish, who along with Shaff was obviously providing cover for his bosom buddy Randy. Well, Randy's gone now. Maybe Shaff and Fish will be gone soon as well. Let's hope that Novick was sincere, and that this time somebody through the looking glass in the state capital will listen.

Comments (14)

It's always a little scary to say you're impressed with politicians, but, in my opinion, Hales and Novick have been gold so far. They could be the Starsky and Hutch who save Portland.

It just feels different around here like the adults are driving the station wagon again. (Hey, when you bring up Starsky and Hutch, you don't worry if the station wagon reference is dated.)

One of the mysterious things about leadership is how it can set up a force field, and - not to be cold to Sam and Randy, now that they're gone - but they didn't feel like leaders to me. They were just the most vocal patients in the therapy group.

Jack, you hit the nail on the head. When it comes to avoiding this $300 million make-work project with no demonstrable health benefit, the decision has always been the City's. Where there's a will, there's a way. The last Council hadn't the will. Steve Novick does. And for ratepayers sake, let's hope the Mayor and his new Chief of Staff do too--they have the power to solve this once and for all. The question is, will the Mayor take this above the unelected bureaucrats, and engage the Governor?

A big thank you to Steve Novick. He has been a real go getter on this issue, wasting no time. Good followup action by the Mayor will be critical to achieving a successful outcome.

We look forward to working with Steve, the Mayor, and the full Council to see this through, protecting our grand open reservoir system and ratepayer's pocketbooks.

Your assessment of the situation is right on.

If only someone had gotten out in front of this issue years ago. What we needed was a columnist who could combine humor with a cynical view of city spending - someone who could see through the phony numbers being thrown around and warn the city about the future.

You know, sort of a forerunner to Jack Bog's Blog:


Nice writing Bill.... "The second plan is that we chance it. Sure, we add a bunch more surveillance cameras and hire some people to monitor the screens, but we keep the beauty of the parks."

And there has only been one drunk who pissed in the drinking water since. (OK, that we know of... can't monitor the cams all the time.)

That is a small price to pay for all that money saved. Portland can just factor it into the equation.

Jack, is it just a coincidence that your right hand ad column has National Tank advertising their plastic water tanks with underground tanks featured? Better yet, at 40% off, and shipping included?

Thanks, Harry. My comment was not to imply that I have Jack's understanding of the financial stuff - not even close.
But to all those weasels out there who called me a sycophant for appearing on this blog, this is your official cue to go f*uck yourself. Jack and I happen to be kindred spirits.

Now back to the topic of underground reservoirs: I always felt a duck you can see is better than a rat you cannot.

The issue that continues to be overlooked is the science of the open reservoirs, Bull Run treatment, and EPA LT2. EPA said “it will be the science that determines the ultimate outcome” and we agree. This all should have been finished years ago if a handful of organizations hadn’t gotten us into the “variance” process that was based on politics not science. Over the last decade, my paper “Public Health Benefits of Open Reservoirs” helped provide understanding of the public health functionality of the reservoirs, not just for aesthetics. I’ve written about the “no need for added Bull Run treatment” too.
Our next step needs to be a complete “waiver” from EPA LT2 through the Safe Drinking Water Act, papers I’ve already written, outlining the scientific rationale for obtaining one, for Bull Run treatment and the reservoirs. EPA got it scientifically wrong. We thank Commissioner Novick, but we need to move forward on the science of the waiver I can provide now. It will be the only answer for a long term permanent solution without the politics.

Scott Fernandez M.Sc.biology/microbiology

Scott Fernandez is a water wonk. Nobody during the last campaign came close to his expertise. Hales and Novick should bring him in for a meeting and hear him out.

For more try this:


I have to agree with Scott Fernandez on the "waiver" aspect. Seems the "variance" has not stopped the Water Bureau from building tanks on Powell Butte, so what good has it done?

It is amazing how politicians can start doing the right thing about curbing unhealthy and misguided pork projects when the cookie jar is empty.

And perhaps there is an dawning understanding that our water supply is not only uniquely efficient as is, but pretty damn healthy when you get the Sun involved to keep it clean.

Seems the "variance" has not stopped the Water Bureau from building tanks on Powell Butte, so what good has it done?

That project cost over $130 million.

The question is, will the Mayor take this above the unelected bureaucrats, and engage the Governor?

The LT2 regulation is a federal rule and our Bull Run Water is in a federally protected watershed.

Let us add Senator Merkley into the mix here to align with Senator Schumer in NY to get our sustainable Bull Run Water System the Waiver it deserves. Sending the matter to the state again needs to be watched carefully as in the past in my opinion it has just been a run around situation with some in the state too closely aligned with the political scene here in Portland.

Scott Fernandez,M.Sc.biology/microbiology is the one who needs to be listened to here. These type of decisions ought to be based on science and our community should be assured that science is what will prevail here. He has been advocating for a Waiver and understands the importance of it.

People need to understand the difference between a variance and a Waiver. Leonard, PWB and the council have liked that avenue of the variance because it allowed them to continue the spending, and in the final analysis is a temporary measure. Our community needs the stability of our sustainable Bull Run Water System that a Waiver would provide.

Yes, hats off to Mr. Novick for his apparent interest in heading this off at the pass. For the moment, I'll favor his presence on City Council over the U.S. Senate, especially since Merkely appears to be on the right track. Meanwhile, along with Mr. Hales, they need to put an immediate stop to all current efforts to the contrary. I'm counting on them and Fritz to carry the ball now.

As for the science backing this issue, Scott Fernandez is certainly right, and that fact has been obvious from day one, over a decade ago. Nevertheless, the politics that "got in the way" of achieving a complete waiver for both Bull Run treatment AND open reservoirs may have been the only viable recourse at the time, given who was ruling the roost and the size of that task. Take your cues from Lincoln (just back from the movie) or from Obama's last 4 years.

Bull Run water is only a part of the plans in process by the
State as well as a Regional proposal extending from British
Columbia through the West Coast states and possibly into
Mexico. Its called the West Coast Infrastructure Exchange and its
website is www.WestCoastX.org. Governor Kitzhaber and State Treasurer Ted Wheeler support the CH2MHILL study (Bull Run as well as Hanford contractors) which showed the advantages on
paper in 2011. Already the process is started for hiring the Exchange manager.

The study claims that there will be an innovatieve ( infrastructure financing system(private) which provides cost savings and
better collaboration brokering connections between public projects and sources of capital.
CH2MHill's track record is questionable but nobody seems to care.

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