Bend councilors OK Overturf Reservoir repairs fast-track

Also agree to SDC exemption for affordable housing

Repairs to Bend reservoirs on the way

BEND, Ore. - Critical repairs to a 90-year-old northwest Bend reservoir system are moving forward, as city councilors unanimously agreed to a fast-track "design-build" process for the work.

The two Overturf Reservoir tanks hold about 1.3 million gallons of water each, and with the pipes between them were installed in 1927 -- and have not been updated since. 

“We don't want to have a catastrophic failure there,” said Paul Rheault, the city's utility director. “You have two big reservoirs on a hill. Any types of water line breaks or something, obviously that water goes downhill, and it’s surrounded by residential neighborhoods.”

About a year ago, an assessment identified repairs that needed to be addressed immediately. They relate to deteriorating pipes and leaking valves.

Rheault said the structures have been checked regularly and hadn’t needed any upgrades until recently. He said the high quality of water in the area means systems like these can last quite awhile. 

Councilors agreed to authorize the use of a '"design-build "contracting method, rather than procuring each service separately. The project has been identified as needing to be completed as soon as possible, and Rheault said this strategy will help facilitate this. 

“Some of the design is going to have to be in an ‘as you go’ basis,” he said. “So it’s nice to be able to have the designer be the contractor as well, and it will get it done in a much faster fashion.”

The completion target is next May, before another heavy-use irrigation system begins. Work is also planned on the reservoir tanks themselves, but this hasn’t been deemed as critical as the piping work and will follow. Rheault estimates that could be a few years out. 

City officials said one reason to combine the design and construction work is that there are not a lot of design records dating back to 1926.

At Wednesday night's meeting, Councilor Nathan Boddie said, "I don't have any info on why this needs to be a sped-up, urgent process." City Purchasing Agent Gwen Chapman explained how the assessment found the need for the work "to be done timely, to prevent any sort of issues."

Rheault said some of the original piping between the reservoirs is above ground, and the rest below grade. He said part of the work will move the piping away from the reservoirs, making the later work on the big tanks themselves easier to do.

He spoke of valves leaking, corrosion and the "bolts holding all this together. There's a potential we could have a catastrophic failure at some time in the future," making it prudent to do the work "sooner rather than later."

The initial work on the piping system is expected to cost about $600,000 and another $700,000 for needed work on the reservoirs, although Rheault that portion could cost more when it's done in a few years.

In other action, councilors on a 6-0 vote approved a proposal to exempt deed-restricted affordable housing projects from system development charges, as a piece of dealing with that huge problem.

The change will lift the current city code's $1 million cap on affordable housind SDC exemptions, beyond which reviews under certain criteria must occur. The code also allowed only 75 percent of transportation SDCs to be exempted, and the changes remove both limits.

Mayor Casey Roats said he had concerns about the lack of a cap on the program becoming a "runaway expense." (But Affordable Housing Manager Jim Long said at most it could involve 100 units a year (an estimated 20 single-family homes and 80 multi-family units), due to "many factors beyond our control, the main one being the IRS." They release a certain number of tax credits -- which he called "the crack cocaine of financing, what everybody wants," but which are very hard to get in a "very competitive" field.

Nevertheless, that could involve about $950,000 less city fee revenues from those projects. So Councilor Justin Livingston proposed an amendment to put a five-year "sunset clause" on the program, meaning it must be reviewed then for renewal, in order to "make sure it's doing as intended to do, not have too much of an impact" on city finances.

Boddie opposed that amendment, saying the "innovative" program will be "leading the charge at a regional and state level. It doesn't need to get wrapped around the political process every few years."

Colleague Bill Moseley disagreed -- in fact, he said the amendment meant he was able to support the proposed SDC exemptions. He said such programs actually shift costs onto other users, in this case from housing for low-income residents to other projects for middle-income residents.

"At the same time, we also get a number of federal and state dollars to support the program," Moseley said. So it was a tough call, until the sunset clause was tacked on.

So the amendment passed 5-1 and the SDC exemption itself on a 6-0 vote (with Councilor Sally Russell not at the meeting).

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