BEND, Ore. - In one unanimous vote, the Bend City Council spent $31.5 million Wednesday night, and no one was on hand to raise objections or concerns -- something that both amazed Councilor Mark Capell and scared him "a little bit."
That's the price tag for a major upgrade, in the works for two years, of the city's 30-year-old sewer treatment plant east of town, a large but by no means last piece of upgrades to the city's sewer system in coming years.
"It's amazing -- we're spending this much money, and no one in the community is saying we're awful, rotten people," Capell said. "Hopefully it's because we've done a great job, but it also scares me a little bit."
Perhaps that's due to the fact that, although sewer (and water) rates have risen in recent years, no increase is needed for this sizable project. But city officials who last estimated the price tag of needed sewer upgrades at $174 million -- dwarfing the controversial surface water project -- know there's plenty more work needed throughout the city to provide needed capacity, especially if economic recovery means more growth.
In other nuts-and-bolts infrastructure business, Bend residents can expect a busy summer of paving on major thoroughfares, in a $1.8 million city/Deschutes County project with Knife River.
Up for overlays are Empire Avenue from Hwy. 20 to the new 18th Street roundabout; Brookswood Blvd. from the Reed Market roundabout south to the city limits; American Lane from American Loop to Klahani Drive; Knott Road, from 15th Street to China Hat Road; and 27th Street, from Ferguson to Rickard roads. A grind-out of existing surface and inlay is planned on Franklin Avenue from Third Street to Broadway Avenue.
Several of the night's votes were unanimous, or close to it, including approving new development standards for private roads on the COCC campus that some neighbors say aren't specific enough.
In an oddity dating back to when Reed Market Road was more a ... market road, the councilors also agreed to begin the process of "legalizing" the road ahead of a major widening and redesign (and to speed the path for any needed right-of-way condemnation proceedings.)
But there was yet another 4-3 split vote on an issue related to the disputed surface water project. This time it was to approve sending a revised water public facility plan back to the state Land Use Board of Appeals, which had done as foes wanted and remanded the plan to the city for more work and more specifics.
Councilor Doug Knight said he still doesn't believe the city did proper testing of the existing decades-old pipes to ensure they must be replaced quickly, as project supportesr say. Mayor Jim Clinton again stated his opinion that the city has failed to lay out options for all of its infrastructure adequately to the public.
But again, while they and Councilor Sally Russell voted no, colleagues Jodie Barram, Capell, Scott Ramsay and Victor Chudowsky voted yes.
Earlier in the evening, councilors rejected a request by the group Move to Amend to put a non-binding advisory measure on the November ballot to see if residents want to join others around the country urging lawmakers to oppose the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which angered any supporters of campaign finance reform by, in essence, calling corporations "people" and their unlimited campaign spending "free speech."
Several on the council said a vote in the May or November 2014 elections would be OK, but not in 2013, when the city would have to pay possibly $8,000 to $10,000 to fund a one-item, off-year election. (Chudowsky had a different tack, saying the court did the right thing, because groups from the NRA to ACLU are also corporations, and the clause of the McCain-Feingold bill the court struck down would have prevented them from campaigning for or against candidates or measures within 60 days of an election -- something the court majority called censorship.)
In an ironic twist, backers of the proposed Citizens United measure asked if they might be able to fund such an election this year. Councilors said it remains to be seen if they'd want to do that, or if it would even be feasible.
As for that sewer project, Assistant City Engineer Jeff England says the city's sewer facility, is at or near its capacity of 6 million gallons a day. The plant expansion to be overseen by Apollo Inc. will expand it to 8.5 million gallons a day.
It's just one of many sewer projects that city officials say must be completed in coming years. For now, they say, rates won't rise.
"The existing rate level and the existing rate structure that we have in place now is adequate to pay for that project," England said.
But it's what's happening in Bend neighborhoods that worry city councilors. If the sewer system isn't expanded, Councilor Scott Ramsay says new businesses and buildings can't move in, and some current ones can't expand.
"We face huge problems with the sewer system and its capacity, and as far as development goes, it's a huge deal," said Ramsay.
The cost of several more projects, like maintaining the pipes that carry all the waste to the facility, could cost people on their future bills.
"It's safe to say, in order to raise the revenue that's needed to complete these projects, that sewer rates will likely be going up," said England.
Councilors said it's an issue facing every city, not just Bend.
"The community has to have a support base and infrastructure," said Ramsay. "And unfortunately, the way to pay for that is the users."
Work on the sewer plant expansion will start as soon as next month. Engineers hope to have the expansion complete by fall of 2015.