Bend delays water project work amid court fight

Ruling on foes' injunction bid sought by Jan. 20

BEND, Ore. - The city of Bend has delayed work on its controversial water pipeline project -- not due to this week's frigid, snowy weather, but under an agreement to wait for a federal judge's ruling on opponents' request for an injunction to block the project.

Under a stipulated order signed last Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene, the city agreed not to begin any work at the project site, including staging and site preparation, under a U.S. Forest Service special use permit until Jan. 20 or a ruling on the injunction and temporary restraining order request, whichever comes first

The Forest Service, meanwhile, agreed not to restrict public access to the project site while the court proceedings go on.

Foregoing an immediate hearing over the holidays, the defendants -- the city and Forest Service, now have until Dec. 16 to file their response to Central Oregon LandWatch and WaterWatch of Oregon, which is seeking to block the multimillion-dollar project.

Then, the plaintiffs will have until reply brief on Jan. 3, the order stated. Aiken then will "hear the matter as soon as practicable thereafter," it said, adding that the parties are seeking a ruling before Jan. 20.

The defendants in the case are actually the Forest Service, Deschutes National Forest Supervisor John Allen and Regional Forester Kent Connaughton, with the city weighing in as intervenor.

The order notes that the plaintiffs filed the lawsuit, asserting the federal agencies' environmental analysis of the Bend Surface Water Improvement Project is inconsistent with the National Environmental Policy Act and also claiming that the project violates the National Forest Management Act, Clean Water Act and Federal Lands Policy and Management Act.

A similar suit filed last year delayed the project and prompted a new Forest Service review of a city proposal to cap the amount of water removed from Bridge Creek, a tributary of Tumalo Creek – a move the critics said fell far short of protecting and improving Tumalo Creek's fish and wildlife habitat.

The opponents have claimed the city could end its use of two water sources and use only groundwater brought to the surface by pumps, at a far smaller cost and less environmentally damage. The city has rejected those claims and the city council has moved, in divided fashion, to protect what many call a valuable dual sources of water. City councilors have called a special meeting for next Friday to discuss the water project.

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