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City Council is briefed on the newest cost estimates for the required plant Thursday afternoon by Portland Water Bureau officials

PMG FILE PHOTO - The reservoir in the Bull Run Watershed that is the primary source of water for much of the region.The estimated cost of building the Portland Water Bureau's required filtration plant has increased from $500 million to as much as $850 million and possibly more, the City Council was told during an afternoon work session on Thursday, Sept. 19.

The council did not make any decisions about the project, which is still in the planning stage. Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who is in charge of the Portland Water Bureau, said she will consult with the other members of the council before submitting a resolution authorizing a contract for the next phase.

Mayor Ted Wheeler expressed concern about potentially higher cost increases, saying that the city is also involved in a number of other large and expensive project. They include the clean up of the Portland Harbor Superfund site.

"If each of these projects expands by 50%, that is going to be a large increase in liabilities on our balance sheet," said Wheeler, a former State Treasurer, who wants to safeguard the city's AAA bond rating.

Much of the increase is to pay for the pipes that will carry water to and from the plant. They are estimated to add $100 million to $200 million, depending on which option the council chooses. Wheeler was annoyed bureau officials did not tell the council the pipes weren't included when the project was first approved.

The council approved building the plant to comply with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirement to remove a potentially harmful parasite from water in the Bull Run Watershed, the primary source of water for Portland and much of the region.

The original estimate was largely based on surveys of similar plants in the country. But the estimated cost has increased as the bureau began detailed planning for the plant to be located in East Multnomah County, between the watershed and Portland.

On Thursday bureau officials estimated the cost of a plant that minimally complies with the EPA requirement at $670 million. A plant that meets other goals, such as better removing other contaminants from the water and better surviving an earthquake, was estimated at $850 million. The first phase of such a better plant was estimated at $730 million, although the total cost of completing it later would be higher.

Bureau officials recommended building the $850 million plant.

The council was also told final costs could still vary based on economic and other conditions. They could potentially range from under $600 million to more than $1.2 billion, depending on the option chosen, bureau officials said. Actual costs could vary by as much as 50% because the design phase has not yet started.

Water rates will have to be raised to build any of the three options. The increase would range from $4.19 to $10.91 a month by 2028, the council was told. Bureau customers receiving low-income assistance would pat between .84 cents and 2.18 more.

The council does not vote during work sessions. It is expected to give the bureau direction for a resolution authorizing a design contract to be considered in October or November.

You can find a previous Portland Tribune story on the project here.


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