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Malinowksi, neighbors plan to keep Portland officials informed of problems

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Construction crews work on a sound wall to mitigate sound from the 86th Avenue Pumping Station being constructed by the Fanno Creek Trail in Bohmann Park area of Garden Home.As construction moves forward on a massive, $25 million wastewater pumping station on Fanno Creek in Garden Home, neighbors and Washington County officials continue to seek assurance from the city of Portland that the controversial project will bring an end to leaks, overflows, inconveniences and disruptions to the unincorporated neighborhood.

Construction crews are working this week to install an underground wet well and pump facility structure, a process that will take several months.

In her Oct. 15 email update to neighbors, Debbie Caselton, spokeswoman for the city of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services, said many cement-mixing trucks will be entering and exiting the project site at 86th Avenue on Friday and Saturday to pour the first of four sections of the wet-well structure.

“The concrete pour is a non-stop operation all day,” she said. “Each section will be at least a month or two apart in order to let the concrete cure and to prepare for the next section.”

The well is the latest element in constructing the 86th Avenue wastewater pumping station. The project, which is scheduled for completion in late 2015, will augment a smaller station completed in 2001 on the opposite side of Fanno Creek. The station and related infrastructure will occupy a 3.5-acre site, the former home of a two story, 1950s-era house and gardens that sat next to a heavily used stretch of the Fanno Creek Regional Trail.

Washington County Commissioner Greg Malinowski has gone to bat numerous time for Bohmann Park neighbors fed up with a series of overflows and leaks in the Portland bureau’s system and the subsequent construction projects intended to mitigate the problems. After months of attempts at scheduling, he met with Portland Mayor Charlie Hales last spring. In late September, Malinowski met with Portland Commissioner Nick Fish and Jim Blackwood, who serves as liaison between the BES and Fish’s office, which is now overseeing the city’s water- and sewer-related issues.

Describing the meetings as cordial but largely unproductive, Malinowski said they came too late to halt or postpone the project. He believes it would take another system malfunction before the bureau would consider additional steps to ease neighbors’ concerns.

“At this point, we’re just waiting for the next blowout,” he said, noting recent construction on a sound-mitigating wall and a surge tank have severely disrupted neighbors. “In the meantime, books are rattling off the shelves. A few residents have had insulation put in to deaden the sound.”

Malinowski has advocated Washington County’s Clean Water Services taking on the excess rain and wastewater flows that overwhelmed the Portland bureau’s original pumping station in the neighborhood. In his view, the bureau and city leaders were more interested in proving they could fix the problem — by pumping water nearly 3 miles uphill — than collaborating on what he and CWS officials claim would be a more practical solution: letting gravity carry flows to its Durham treatment plant.

“They want to take another crack at it,” he said of the Portland bureau. “So far, they’ve guessed wrong. Eventually, I’m sure they’ll figure out how to make it work. We’ve served notice that we’re out of patience, and we’re going to keep going back until they get it right.”

While the bureau has had success in operating most of its 95 pumping stations, Blackwood admitted the Fanno Creek station has posed an unusual set of challenges.

“Clearly this has been an ongoing problem,” he said. “There were some bad technology choices that didn’t work out, and now we’re attempting to mitigate that. Communication wasn’t as good as it could’ve been with neighbors.”

Blackwood is hopeful an improved communications strategy — which includes Caselton visiting the construction site twice a week to meet with neighbors — and measures such as the sound wall, forming an advisory committee and close monitoring will decrease residents’ sense of discomfort.

“We are doubling down on our outreach to the neighborhood,” he said. “We can apologize for our past missteps, and I can do so on behalf of the city, but we have to focus on what’s going on now — on community outreach and using the best engineering we can.”

Jeff Gottfried, whose house sits fewer than 100 yards from the construction site, said he was disappointed in the outcome of the meeting with Fish and Blackwood, which he attended.

“I learned that BES was embarrassed and apologetic about their past performance and for being a ‘bad neighbor.’ I was assured by Commissioner Fish, who appeared to be somewhat unfamiliar with the Fanno Creek pump station and the BES history of failures, that he would visit our neighborhood and the construction site, educate himself and take whatever action he felt appropriate,” he said. “To my knowledge he has not visited, nor has he responded to my emails or Facebook posts.”

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