It was standing room only at Monday night?s Bend Planning Commission hearing, as about 75 citizens packed the City Hall hearing room, many opposed to Bend's planned $68 million surface water project. And their concerns clearly influenced the outcome of the night -- a reluctant approval of a city Public Facilities Plan that includes the project.
Eight of those on hand testified against the controversial plans and one in support before the seven-member commission (six of whom were on hand) first split on whether to adopt the new Public Facilities Plan with the project included, then voted 4-2 to support it, but only with some language distancing themselves from the specifics of the Surface Water Improvement Plan (SWIP).
The recommendation now goes to the Bend City Council, which can accept or reject its citizen panel's recommendations.
According to a news release from the opponents' group, "Stop the Drain," Barbara Kenyon testified she is just a citizen concerned about what her City is spending her money on.
?I get the feeling we are on a runaway train, financially," she said. "My water bill is already outrageous. There is no need to spend $68 million for water when there are cheaper alternatives. As a rate-paying citizen, I think other options should be considered. Please encourage the City Council to reverse their course by voting against the SWIP. Don?t saddle the citizens of Bend with this debt of millions of dollars.?
Paul Dewey, executive director of Central Oregon Landwatch, spoke on behalf of that organization.
?The whole point of having a Public Facilities Plan is to make sure our city is acting in the best interest of its citizens, and in the best interest of the future of Bend,? he said. ?The flows of Tumalo Creek over Tumalo Falls, through Shevlin Park and into the Middle Deschutes are of great visual, recreation and economic importance to the people of Central Oregon. The dramatic negative impacts this project could have on Tumalo Creek would be devastating to the area.?
Doug Werme, a consulting geologist, spoke about how the assumptions built into the project have changed, and why that means the city should take another look at the alternatives.
?Within a few years, the costs to pump water from the ground will be 70 percent lower than assumed," Werme said. "The revenues from the hydro project will be 70 percent less than assumed. The groundwater option will clearly be the better choice.?
Toby Bayard, a volunteer with Central Oregon Landwatch who contacted over 150 people in preparation for the hearing, said she was very pleased with the turnout: ?Its great to see so many people in one room, gathering together to affect positive change in our community.?
Only one person spoke in favor of including the $68 million water project in the Public Facilities Plan. Casey Roats, the owner of Roats Water System, cited the unreliability of wells and the possibility that well water may become contaminated as part of his reason for supporting the SWIP. Roats Water System utility operates using solely wells.
After hearing testimony from the public and responses from city staff for more than three hours, the planning commissioners tied 3-3 on approving the Public Facilities Plan.
One vote changed to approval, but only after city staff helped draft resolution language that said, ?I move to recommend approval of the Water PFP to the City Council with the understanding that the City Council has by resolutions and other Council decisions began implementing the Surface Water Project and that this recommendation is not an opinion on the financing or merits of the project.?
For more information from critics of the city's direction, visit www.stopthedrain.org