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Measures on the November special election ballot focus on Bull Run and mutual aid deals

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Bull Run Watershed is the primary source of water for Portland much of the region.Two measures related to the Portland Water Bureau will appear on the Nov. 5 special election ballot.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who is in charge of the bureau and sponsored them, said they are common-sense changes that should have happened years ago. There is no organized opposition to either measure.

Measure 26-204 would put the current environmental protection for the Bull Run Watershed into the city charter. The watershed is the primary source of water for Portland and much of the region. City code already restricts public access, prohibits tree cutting, limits land-use activities, and more. However, the code can be changed by the council, while changing the charter requires a public vote.

Fritz said she was inspired to ask the council to refer the measure to the ballot after the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire that consumed much of the nearby Columbia River Gorge and the council's approval of a plant to filter Bull Run water to remove contaminants. The fire demonstrated how much harm a single person can cause, while the completion of the plant might encourage some to consider opening the watershed to public uses.

"If the protections are only in the code, they could be changed by the vote of a single council member," said Fritz.

The measure is supported by a coalition of environmental organizations and the Portland Business Alliance.

Measure 26-205 would allow the bureau to spend ratepayer funds on emergency mutual aid agreements, which would enable governments to provide and receive emergency assistance following disasters. Such agreements typically allow the sharing of personnel and equipment.

The measure is a response to a judge's ruling in a ratepayer lawsuit that the city charter does not currently allow ratepayer funds to be spent on such agreements. The ruling prompted the city council to pay $350,000 in general fund dollars to repay the bureau for money it spent to help New Orleans recover after Hurricane Katrina.

"General fund dollars are limited, and the bureau's experiences in New Orleans were good training that will help us recover when the big one hits," said Fritz, referring to the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake expected to strike the region eventually.

Fritz said the bureau is already allowed to spend ratepayer funds to conferences and training exercises that are not as realistic as responding to a real disaster. She said the bureau would be required to report to the council every year on their mutual aid agreement activities, which will guarantee transparency.

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