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A group protesting a proposal to demolish two of Portland’s open reservoirs in Washington Park interrupted Wednesday’s City Council meeting, drowning out city commissioners prior to a vote on the plan.

For the second time in three weeks, Mayor Charlie Hales and commissioners walked out of the meeting after protesters raised their voices. The lights in the chambers were turned off and the chambers were cleared.

The chaotic council meeting followed an hour of protests outside City Hall.

The council was scheduled to make a procedural vote on whether they felt it was legal to move forward with the demolition plans. The city would then create underground water storage in their place, a plan estimated at $67 million.

“There is no reason for this council to have been fast-tracking this expensive process, which is why our water rates have gone up,” said Rosemarie Opp, who is against the underground reservoirs.

Jessie Sponberg, who wants the reservoirs saved, told KOIN 6 News, “I really want the people of Portland to understand how very, very serious this is.”

Opponents want the city to continue to fight a federal requirement that all reservoirs be covered. They worry about construction impacts to the neighborhood and they want to preserve the historic reservoirs.

Brian Emerick, chairman of the Historic Landmarks Commission, said it was not an easy decision to make to support the demolition of the reservoirs.

“We didn’t take this lightly,” he said.

He said their support was based on landslide stability issues, the federal mandate and plans to preserve the water tower, fencing and lighting as reasons to support the plan.

Protesters tried to get the council to stop or delay demolition, but in the end, they did not.

The Portland City Council gave tentative approval Wednesday afternoon to a proposal from the Water Bureau to demolish the two open reservoirs in Washington Park.

After the vote, Water Bureau Administrator David Shaff issued a statement, saying the bureau appreciated the council’s “thoughtful consideration of our application.”

“Council’s decision to approve is a step in the process that will give us the legal authority we need to decommission the open reservoirs at Washington Park, which is a step toward complying with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act,” Shaff said. “The new reservoirs will make our system more reliable, resilient and secure. Following a robust public involvement process, the design presented to Council is supported by the neighbors of Washington Park.”

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