By Midge Pierce
The Water Bureau’s final construction plan for decommissioning the Mt. Tabor Reservoirs has been submitted to the Portland Land Use Review Board. This means the clock has started ticking on the storage of drinking water in Portland’s century old, open air reservoirs.
The public will have limited opportunity to review and comment on the plan. The comment period will last 51 days and begins once the Bureau of Develpmental Services (BDS) declares the application complete, which could be any time up to October 17.
Interested citizens can learn more about how to comment at the BDS website, www.portlandoregon.gov/bds/35625; the case file number is LU 14-218444 HR EN.
As of this writing, the comment period could start immediately or any time in the next three weeks. If it starts October 17, for instance, the public will have until Nov. 21 to comment. The staff report that will then be produced by BDS will include a summary of citizen comments to be delivered to the Landmarks Commission about 15 days prior to a December hearing.
The land use process was intensified from a Type II to Type III after a citizens advisory group pointed out that both Mt. Tabor Park itself and the reservoirs are listed on the National Historic Register.
Although the task force established by the Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association was able to work with water bureau engineers to negotiate significant mitigation of damage to view corridors, mature trees and historic structures, the scope of that effort was limited to the planned construction project.
“People need to understand that the final plan is better than the original, but our task was to minimize damage and maximize public input into the construction plans,” says task force member John Laursen.
He adds that potential future public meetings will address what comes after the reservoirs have been decommissioned. Any proposals will need to comply with the Mt. Tabor Park Master Plan and restrictions placed on the site by its historic designation.
Still, he and others in the neighborhood, have long championed retention of the open-air reservoirs.
“It stands to reason that (covered) water stored in a box will need more treatment than water in the open, purified by exposure to sunlight. Part of the reason the City is pushing to decommission is that the EPA is reviewing its LT2 ruling to close open air reservoirs, and may well reverse that decision.” Laursen says a new ruling is expected in 2016.
“If the EPA reverses its position, the City will be able to say that our reservoirs have already been disconnected and this is a dead issue for Portland.”
In a last ditch effort to save the reservoirs, a group called Citizens for Portland’s Water has been passing out fliers indicating that water rates will increase as a result of the construction and additional treatment needed. It claims the cost to public health will also be significant.