Neighbors justified in concerns regarding filtration plant
Clearly, the time has arrived to build and operate a water filtration plant on the Bull Run water system operated by the Portland Water Bureau. With the presence of cryptosporidium in the water — a microscopic parasite — the need to protect consumers from this health hazard has come into clear focus.
The question of where to build the plant, however, is causing indigestion among some rural residents who oppose siting the plant near their homes and property in rural Boring on bureau-owned property along Southeast Dodge Park Boulevard.
In fairness to the bureau, nobody will ever want this plant located near their homes — not in rural or urban settings. And siting of the plant is a complicated matter, taking into consideration the complexities of dispersing filtered water to its many customers who live in communities from Sandy to Portland. The bureau must maximize gravity flow (reducing or eliminating the need to pump water, which is expensive), and consider geology of the site, site size and land ownership. From the bureau's perspective, the site off Dodge Park Boulevard best meets its criteria.
The questions going forward are:
n Could the bureau be doing a better job of responding to the concerns of its future neighbors?
n Are nearby residents justified as they raise "livability" concerns? Or are nearby residents simply falling into the NIMBY trap (Not In My Back Yard)?
It's probably a little bit of all of the above.
To begin with, the bureau can't begin to join livability conversations if it can't demonstrate what this plant will look like once it's built. The bureau doesn't have a rendering that illustrates — even in concept — what this plant might look like. It will be January 2020 before the design phase begins. Between now and then, neighbors will be left to wonder how this plant may intrude on pastoral vistas. Will this structure resemble a chemical plant found in Portland's industrial district? Or will the design blend into the bucolic countryside? Considering that similar plants are operational throughout North America, it's puzzling that a conceptual drawing can't be made available.
We asked if there would be odors that waft from the plant.
"Odors are not expected. In areas where filtration plants are in use, communities have not experienced odors in normal operations. The chemicals being evaluated are in common use at water treatment plants across the United States."
That's reassuring. That's a good answer.
But we're a little less comfortable on the topic of noise.
We asked the Bureau, "What type of sound would emit from the plant once operational?" The response was too vague.
"The filtration plant design and operation will include noise limiting measures required to meet local ordinances. For example, a number of plant processes will be located within buildings to address potential off-site noise impacts."
OK, we get it, you'll do your best to limit the noise. Thank you. But what sounds will it make? That was the question. Will there be banging? Persistent humming of machinery? Will it be quiet as a church mouse?
Again, because these types of plants are already operational elsewhere, it shouldn't be difficult to forecast the types of sounds ordinarily associated with these facilities. The bureau didn't answer the question to our satisfaction.
What about increased traffic on roads? We asked, "How much daily traffic will occur once the plant is operational?"
Their answer: "It is too soon to identify how many truck trips there will be because we have not designed the facility or finalized any type of operation just yet. For a project like this, estimates can change on a regular basis, and are purely preliminary. However, at this point, early planning estimates have a wide range of 400 to 700 trips per year, or on average 1 to 2 trips per day."
That sounds reasonable. Trucks already operate on the rural roads in this farming community; a couple more trucks a day won't bother anyone.
But on the topics of visual and noise intrusion, the bureau has not provided sufficient information upon which to make an informed decision on the livability issue. In that context, the nearby residents are justifiably nervous about the siting of this plant in their "backyard." Until more clarity is offered, they should continue to put pressure on the bureau for answers.
Ultimately, it's not the residents' responsibility to defend their opposition to the plant. It's the bureau's responsibility to prove to their future neighbors that they have nothing to worry about. But so far, there just isn't enough information upon which to reach that conclusion.
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