Riotous Reservoir Meeting

By Nancy Tannler

(Note: the scheduled Dec 10 meeting has been postponed)


The Mt. Tabor Reservoir meeting with Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Nick Fish was like something one would see on a television program depicting the Conservatives and Liberals in England’s Parliament.

Despite the disruption of the scheduled program, the moderator, Terri Pierson from Resolutions Northwest, was able to keep it from breaking down into total chaos and allow some voices to be heard.

The crowd demanded that Commissioners answer questions from a sheet of paper circulating the room titled “For the Sake of Justice and Good Governance”, before the Portland Water Bureau PWB could proceed with the evening’s presentation on options for the reservoir.

The questions were the talking points of the various groups against the reservoirs disconnection, disuse and destruction.

A sampling of them are about: the awards of water contracts to the company CH2M Hill and the thousands of gallons leaking from the newly-completed Powell Butte reservoirs; Joe Glicker; science; review of LT2 ruling by the EPA: water assurance in case of an earthquake: National Historic Landmark status; extensions and deferrals granted other municipalities and their commitment to honest and efficient governance.

Commissioner Fritz made an attempt to reply that created more upheaval from the audience.

Eventually Brett Horner, of PWB, spoke about the four options PP &R and PWB proposed. They are: #1: keep the reservoirs filled with water; #2: keep the reservoirs with no water; #3: implement the Gustafson Gutherie Nichol Design of 2003 and #4: come up with something completely different.

The cost on option #1, keeping them filled, is estimated at around $90,000 a year.

Option #2 is an undetermined amount because no one knows how much maintenance will be required for upkeep.

The preliminary cost option for #3 is $40 million to add water features, pathways, plantings, water garden etc.

At the time of the meeting, option #4 didn’t receive much attention.

A question addressed to Theresa Elliott, PWB engineer, was: if there were circulatory systems in the reservoirs; if they would have to be cleaned as often and cost so much, in option #1. She assured the audience that it would require this much maintenance.

Commissioner Fritz wanted people to make a decision about these options that night so they could be included in the budget for next year, but there was no consensus at the meeting, only questions and acrimony regarding PWB’s handling of the reservoirs.

People in the audience were given an opportunity to speak and one of the first speakers was Floy Jones. She has been actively opposing the closure of the reservoirs since 2006. She remains adamant that the process PWB used to fast-track the closure of the reservoirs was unnecessary and that city leaders could have fought better and harder for those who oppose the LT2 ruling.

This sentiment was reiterated by many of those who gave testimony, asking the Commissioners why they didn’t fight for us against the federal ruling like in Rochester, New York where there is a deferral until 2026.

Commissioner Fritz said in her oath of office she was sworn to uphold the laws of the Federal Government and so she couldn’t go against the LT2 ruling.

Yet a young woman made the point in her testimony that  while she was working on legalizing medical marijuana in California, many government officials chose to stand behind the voice of the people who want to legalize it even though marijuana is not legal to our federal government.

John Laursen and Dawn Smallman from the Mt Tabor Neighborhood Association reiterated the stand they have taken that vigorously opposes the closure of the reservoirs.

Laursen commented that Commissioner Fritz, who originally was aligned with reservoir advocates, was in the way of a boulder rolling downhill and she got rolled over. Her constituents in other bureaus had an agenda she couldn’t stop. He made the wry comment: “Are the reservoirs half-full or half empty”?

Scott Fernandez received a standing ovation for his continued work on the health issues of capping reservoirs and drawing radon infused water from the Colombia South Shore Wells.

He continues to ask for a waiver. Details and documentation for this request can be found at

After much cajoling from the audience, Commissioner Fish finally agreed to address some questions posed to him.

He said Portland did receive a waiver from treating the water itself with chemicals for cryptosporidium, the original reason for the LT2 ruling.

He went on to say that absolutely no city has received a waiver or a variance for the Federal ruling to cover all reservoirs, only one place has received a deferral. In his opinion, the PWB vigorously pursued the legislative, administrative and the courts to reverse the mandate to cover the reservoirs.

Commissioner Fish, however, refused to answer any questions regarding cronyism with former water bureau employee, Joe Glicker and PWB’s no bid, no cap projects assignations to his former employer of CH2M Hill.

Most recently Mark Bartlett has been requesting documents from PWB for last year’s first Land Use Review (LUR) to see what was in the LUR that relegated the Mt. Tabor Parks Disconnect Project to a Type 2 application back in January 2014.

A Type 2 application means that the cost would not exceed $407,000 and there is very limited public involvement.

After objection from the public, the Mt Tabor Disconnect project was changed to a Type 3 application by the Bureau of Developmental Services (BDS) and PWB. Now the cost for the new Type 3 application  is valued at ten times the original $407,000 amount.

Bartlett just wanted to see the original application and compare it to the current Type 3 application. He was told that Tom Carter, the PWB applicant, had provided all of the files he considered relevant to the disconnect project on their website. He was however told that he could pay $390 for a file search.

Bartlett’s question, one of many, is why couldn’t he compare the two types of applications to better understand the cost differences from one application to the other. Bartlett left the meeting before his opportunity to address the commissioners.

The take-away from the meeting is that the majority of those in attendance expressed distrust of PP&R, PWB, City Council, BDS and the Oregon Health Authority’s process over the past twelve years regarding the Mt. Tabor reservoirs.


MTNA  Response

By Midge Pierce


Outraged citizens are calling for a formal, line-by-line accounting of the Portland Water Bureau’s astounding $90,000 price tag to retain fresh water in the reservoirs slated for disconnection. The costs unveiled at the PWB’s contentious, gloves-off Nov. 18 meeting delivered a gut-punch to the Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association which quickly reauthorized its Community Action Committee to pursue remedies.

After months of meeting almost daily with bureau engineers to resolve reservoir deconstruction issues while advocating for having water in the basins, the CAC was stunned that it was given no advance warning of the bureau’s steep annual cost to fill, drain, clean and refill the three Mt. Tabor reservoirs.

Capital improvements for circulation were tagged at $600,000. Yet, the bureau failed to provide costs for a second option that would leave reservoirs empty.

If option one had a price tag on it, option two should also have a price tag, according to MTNA Landuse Chair Stephanie Stewart who called a $10,000 cleaning figure supplied by the PWB unjustifiable.

“Everyone in Mt. Tabor has seen how the cleaning is done. It is two guys with push brooms for a few days. These workers are already on the payroll. How is that $10.000?”

Committee member and longtime reservoir supporter Dawn Smallman says the costs were an unforeseen development.  “The $90,000 came out of nowhere. We were consistently told that the basins could be filled, cleaned and replenished for next to no cost. If you ask me, this is about trying to put the last nail in the coffin of the basins.”

The structures on the National Register of Historic Places are focal centerpieces of the renowned Olmsted-designed park.

Leaving the reservoirs empty is not cost-free, but PWB claimed the costs for cleaning and maintenance were not available. Empty reservoirs would turn into what CAC member John Laursen termed “giant cigarette butt containers”. A third option to dismantle the basins and create water gardens would be a prohibitively-expensive $40 million. Few took that option seriously.

Laursen said the community has been pressing for public input on the future of the reservoirs for more than a decade.

“At least, the meeting resulted in the pent-up voice of the community being heard. (Water Bureau Commissioner) Fish was finally forced to speak and agree to post written answers.”

PWB’s purported sleight-of-hand has further eroded public trust according to citizens attending the Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association’s November meeting. For Smallman, after hours of delicate, dedicated negotiations,  the surprise was personal. “This was a sneak attack. We played by their rules so we could mitigate damage to the park even when they took discussion of stopping disconnection off the table.”

She added that CAC’s efforts were successful in reducing upcoming construction upheaval and tree destruction as well as reducing the number of pipes removed during the disconnect so the reservoirs could be reconnected should the federal government reverse the so-called EPA LT2 requirement that resulted in the PWB decision to take the reservoirs offline.

Following the public meeting, MTNA submitted comments for a December Land Use Review. The central tenants of the document call for fresh water to remain an essential feature in the reservoirs and for a formal, detailed impact study before the disconnection project is allowed to proceed.

In addition to the review documents, Landuse Chair Stewart is appealing to the Oregon State Historic Preservation Organization for intervention.

Her appeal states: “Portland’s Water Bureau has chosen the most destructive, least community-supported option available for compliance with a Federal rule, and when examined in concert with the Water Bureau’s anti-preservation culture, we believe this project demands careful scrutiny and oversight from SHPO.”

Her letter attests that the reservoirs are currently in compliance with all water standards.

“Other, less destructive and less intrusive approaches are being used in other cities with similar in-town, historic reservoirs and these other approaches should be thoroughly examined for use at Portland’s own historic resources.”

Evidence of PWB’s lack of trustworthiness surfaces in Stewart’s citation of a 2002 attempt – prior to the EPA ruling – to destroy and bury the reservoirs.

She also cites the bureau’s lack of site maintenance in favor of big construction projects and failure to solicit public input or to consider evidence that open reservoirs are scientifically sound.

Days after the public meeting, the Bureau of Development Services released its staff report on the reservoirs’ future. Stewart was cautiously encouraged by two items.  First, the report supports retaining water in the reservoirs and secondly, recommends implementation of an interpretive program. Stewart was encouraged that BDS felt the site worthy enough for an interpretive program, which could be something as simple as signage about the history of the sites or the purity of  Bull Run water.  But moving forward, she says, mandates for reservoir maintenance and preservation must be addressed.

For more information on MTNA efforts to protect the reservoirs:



Riotous Reservoir Meeting

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top