Deschutes County Commissioners set aside nearly four hours for a public hearing Wednesday night on a disputed plan to pipe a stretch of the Pilot Butte Canal north of Bend. But it went nearly an hour longer than that.
Over 100 residents filled the hearing room for the hearing on the Central Oregon Irrigation District's request to make the project an "outright" permitted use - meaning no need to file another application.
Those in favor of piping say it'll help the environment and raise revenue for the city of Bend. But opponents say the money flow will be at their expense.
"It's sort of like somebody has a gun to your head and is saying 'sign this paper or we're going to reduce your property values more,'” said Bend resident Matt Gadow. “I just don't think that's the American way."
COID General Manager Craig Horrell wasn’t sure of the impact on property value, but that it’s a concern the district shares with homeowners.
"It's tough to say whether the land value's there or not, if the canal's there or not,” Horrell said. “Our hope is that we can put the land back to the point where it doesn't deter from property values."
The water debate goes beyond the hydroelectric revenue stream COIDC would like to boost at a nearby facility. Those in favor of piping are asking residents to put the environmental impact ahead of the dollars and cents.
"The biggest issue is the return of water to the rivers,” said Herb Blank, a treasurer for Trout Unlimited. “I don't think the folks here appreciate the broader issue."
The irrigation district could still pipe the canal if they file for a conditional use permit, but the issue may get bigger if COID gets their way without the residents' blessings.
"I guarantee that if they ramrod this project through with the change of code, me and my neighbors will have no choice but to start a law uit for the lost property value," Gadow said.
That's something the irrigation district would like to avoid.
"We hope that we don't have to go down that path and that we can work this issue out with the neighbors," Horrell said.
The hearing ended shortly before 10:30 p.m., but the written record will remain open until July 16th. After that, at least one work session will be held by commissioners before setting a date for their decision, said Commissioner Tammy Baney.