BEND, Ore. - It's the largest infrastructure project that the city of Bend has undertaken, a surface water project to replace aging pipeline and spend more than $70 million in the process, a cost to be passed on to ratepayers.
Despite the critics, city councilors Wednesday night approved an early purchase of a million dollar steel pipe that moves the project along and is expected to cut costs by some $2.3 million.
Such a big project, as expected, is drawing controversy. Several opponents spoke out Wednesday night claiming that the project is not good for the environment or for ratepayers.
Dr. Mike Tripp usually doesn't get involved with political issues -- but on this one, he says he had to.
"The citizens of Bend are worth representing because this has not followed a proper path, it needs to be redirected," Tripp said.
Tripp and a group of other community members are upset with city councilors on their decision to continue using surface water instead of shifting solely to ground water wells. They say a recent sharp drop in the water level of Tumalo Creek that killed some fish, due to a water conservation project, is an example of what could happen down the road -- a claim the city rejects, saying the project will benefit fish habitat and area waterways.
"If they take less and go to all groundwater, these flows could triple at little to no extra cost to the cost of not doing the project," Tripp said.
Explaining the pipe purchase, Mayor Jeff Eager said, "Staff estimates that steel prices right now are low compared to where they are next year."
Eager says when he first joined the council in 2009, there were people saying this issue was old already. But after numerous public meetings and public involvement, the council, he feels, has come to the right decision.
"There's been a lot of attention paid to it, but appropriately so," Eager said.
And thanks to Tripp, and now, Moey Newbold, it's getting even more attention. Newbold is helping with a petition aimed at stopping the project, and so far, she's gathered 500 signatures.
"We don't think they should gamble with taxpayers' money, and we also don't think they should do this project in the first place," Newbold said.
Newbold says there will be more big increases in water rates. But Eager says there have already been increases in rates, and its an unfortunate necessity, for the improvements necessitated by an aging pipeline, federal clean-water rules and other factors.
"There is no good option here -- both options are expensive, and they come at a terrible time," economicall Eager said.
A time when Newbold and Tripp say the city needs to switch to all ground water,
"It's more environmentally friendly, more fiscally responsbile, and better for the average people of Bend in this financial crisis," Newbold said.
Now, with the purchase of the steel pipe, the efforts by the opponents could appear to be moot.
But Tripp and Newbold say they won't give up, even if the city clears the hurdles and builds the new pipeline. They say there are going to be conservation issues to address, including water consumption and resources like Tumalo Creek.