By Nancy Tannler
At a series of meetings held last Spring co-hosted by the Mt Tabor Neighborhood Association (MTNA) and the Portland Water Bureau (PWB) the public had an opportunity to hear directly about the scope and impact of the 18-month, multi-million dollar project to disconnect drinking water from Mt. Tabor’s historic open-air reservoirs.
Prior to this series of public meetings, Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Nick Fish said they want to have a public process to decide the future of what comes after the reservoir disconnection process. The first of these public meetings will be open to the public and will be held on November 18 and December 10. (See ad on page 9)
Suggestions of a skatepark/wave park or a soccer field have been part of the discussion but John Laursen, MTNA, advises caution to the people’s hopes for a visioning process. His concern is that citizen expectations won’t match what is possible.
The Water Bureau owns the land the reservoirs are on, as well as the land that the gatehouses and control vaults are on (or in), amounting to fifty-one acres.
Under the existing reservoirs is an integrated piping system – large 4-foot-diameter pipes that bring water to the reservoirs, and then similar pipes that carry water from the reservoirs to the drinking-water system. This entire system, including some of the control mechanisms for managing flows through the system, will all still be there and functioning after the disconnect.
PWB is opposed to anything being built above those pipes. Should the future population growth exceed the storage capacity at Powell Butte, then the existing footprint of the reservoirs could be adapted to provide that capacity.
There are other aspects to consider when planning for the future of the reservoirs. The Mt Tabor Park Master Plan (MTMP) does not directly address the issue of dismantling the reservoirs, since no one could have contemplated that this historic and extremely efficient and functional drinking water system would ever be intentionally destroyed.
It does clearly state “the reservoirs provide significant historic and aesthetic quality to the park. These facilities are the key identifiable landmarks in the park and their presentation as such is of great benefit.” 1 It also says that the park “provides a feeling of sanctuary and a sense of separation from the surrounding urban environment that should be preserved, restored, and enhanced for the enjoyment of park users.”
Recreational uses within the park must be managed “to minimize impact on the park’s natural character and adjacent neighborhoods.”
So plans for a skate park or soccer field or water park is not in keeping with the nature of Mt. Tabor Park and would not be countenanced by the Master Plan.
Laursen’s concerns are that people will try to amend or manipulate the MTMP to accommodate their vision for the reservoirs. He feels this is a bad precedent to be changing existing public processes whenever they don’t fit.
Back in 2006 when the vision was “What Goes On Top” they estimated $30 million for the project. Now that the vision has changed to “What Comes After”, that sum has increased. After the reservoirs are dismantled, and if they can’t find some kind of use for large holes in the ground, then they will need to be bulldozed and filled – an enormously expensive undertaking.
The big question is: where will the money come from? Parks has a huge deficit, and the PWB has learned from past experience to be more judicious with ratepayer money.
The Mt Tabor neighborhood Association was told by David Shaff, Administrator for PWB and Commissioner Nick Fish that the expense to just keep the reservoirs filled is minimal, though an exact dollar amount was not given and different times of the year would change.
Draining the reservoirs costs very little if timed to avoid a Combined Sewer Overflow into the Willamette River, and they would have complete control over the timing. Cleaning would have to be done whether or not the reservoirs contain water. It was pretty clear in our conversations that keeping “healthy water” in the reservoirs – that is, water periodically refreshed by draining, cleaning, and filling – is the least-cost alternative over time.
1 Mt Tabor Park Master Plan